Cold sores also known as fever blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1. This disease doesn’t always cause symptoms when you are first infected, so you may not know you have it until you begin experiencing outbreaks of cold sores. There are many over-the-counter and prescription medications you can use to eliminate these sores. However, you may have an equal amount of success with natural home remedies. Here are a few things to try at home the next time a cold sore breaks out on your face.
Licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid that has proven to be effective at killing the viral cells in cold sores. For the treatment to be effective, you must get the real stuff. Most of the licorice candy found in stores is flavored with anise.
Many health food stores will have real licorice that you can chew on. Another option is to buy licorice extract or powder, mix with a little bit of oil and then apply it directly to the affected area. Be judicious about the use of this remedy as licorice can cause harmful side effects such as edema, muscle pain, and numbness in the arms and legs if you consume too much of it or use it for too long.
- Ice Pack
Low temperature causes blood vessels to constrict, so icing a cold sore when it first breaks the surface may help reduce the length of an outbreak and is a quick way to eliminate the burning sensation, also known as inflammation. Simply place an ice pack directly on the sore or suck on cold popsicles (or just ice cubes). Avoid chewing on cold substances that contains acid, such as juice bars as it may irritate the already inflamed and sensitive tissues.
- Dab a Little Milk
Milk may also help in reducing the length of time the cold sore hangs around, if you apply some of it on the inflamed area when you first feel the tingling and burning sensations. Put a little milk on a cotton ball and hold it on the cold sore for a minute or two. The immunoglobulins within milk will also help in minimizing the pain and irritation on the cold sores that have already broken through the skin.
- Zinc Lozenges
When you are under a lot of stress, your immune system can’t function as effectively. Give it a little boost by sucking on zinc lozenges. Zinc has been shown to be effective at reducing the duration of the common cold, which is caused by a different virus. Therefore, it may also work well in reducing the duration of cold sores (fiver blisters). It won’t get rid of cold sore overnight, but you may be free of them a few days earlier.
- Use Vanilla
Vanilla contains alcohol, which may reduce help kill the viral organisms causing the cold sore outbreak. Using vanilla may prevent the outbreak from occurring or reduce the length of time you have to suffer from it. Be certain to use pure vanilla extract, especially the organic kind if you have access to it. Pour some of the extract on a cotton swab or ball and hold it against the cold sore for approximately two minutes. Repeat up to four times a day until the cold sore disappears.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is a drying agent that can disinfect the fever blisters, which in turn may help decrease the healing time. Keeping the blister clean can aid the body in getting rid of the viral agents causing the sores to erupt. Soak a cotton ball in hydrogen peroxide and hold it against the cold sores for about 20 seconds. Let the solution sit on the sore for approximately 5 minutes and then wash the inflamed area with warm water.
- Peppermint Oil
The herpes virus typically hides deep in the body, but some of the viral agents escape to the surface of the skin during an outbreak. It is believed that peppermint oil is effective at killing these escaped organisms. The best time to start applying the oil is when you begin exhibiting the symptoms of an impending cold sore eruption such as tingling and burning in the lips..
Cleanse the cold sores with warm water and then dab a little peppermint oil on it using a cotton swab. The oil is strong and may irritate your skin, so you may want to dilute it with another type of oil such as olive to minimize the possible inflammation. Apply the oil twice a day until the cold sore is gone.
- Consume Echinacea
During an outbreak, your immune system sends white blood cells to deal with the virus. Echinacea bolsters your immune system, thus increasing your immunity to other bugs that may be floating around and reducing the amount of time that you are sick for.
You can consume Echinacea in a couple of ways. It is available in the form of a tea , so drinking a cup everyday can be helpful. Be certain to steep the tea for at least 10 minutes to extract as much of its medical properties as possible. Another option is to take Echinacea supplements, which can be found at most drugstores.
- Increase your intake of Vitamin C and E
Vitamin C boosts your immune system by increasing the count of white blood cells. This means your body will have more soldiers to send to the infection site to combat the viral agents.
Vitamin E is known for its skin-healing properties and can help in alleviating the pain and irritation, while minimizing the scars, when applied directly on the cold sores.
While you can take vitamin supplements, the best way to get these two vitamins is through your diet. Citrus fruits, red berries, kiwi, tomatoes, spinach, and red and green bell peppers are all good sources of vitamin C. Nuts, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and avocados are a good choice for vitamin E. You can also purchase vitamin E capsules, prick one of the pills with a pin, and then apply the oil directly on the cold sores.
Cornstarch has a fine silky texture that works well at alleviating the burning and itching associated with cold sores. This ingredient also reduces the acidity of the skin, which can make the it less hospitable to the virus since it thrives in acidic environments. This may result in fewer days having to deal with the outbreak.
Combine one tablespoon of cornstarch with one teaspoon of water in a bowl and mix until you get a paste. Put a little bit on the sore at night before you go to bed and then rinse it off with warm water in the morning. Continue this treatment until the cold sores disappear.
- Witch Hazel
Witch hazel has been used for years to treat a variety of skin disorders, cuts, and other maladies. It has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may alleviate the itching and burning caused by cold sores while shortening the duration of the infection. This substance is available in any drugstore. Simply soak a cotton ball or Q-tip in witch hazel, dab onto the sore and let dry. Do this twice per day until the sore goes away.
Be aware, though, that witch hazel can irritate the skin, and you may be allergic to it without even knowing. Before applying to your cold sore, put a small amount of the substance on your elbow or other unseen part of your body. If you don’t have an adverse reaction, then it is safe to use small amounts on the cold sore.
- Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe Vera has soothing properties that is useful for alleviating the sting from sunburns. It is also good at fighting off bacteria and can help minimize the pain caused by cold sores. You can get Aloe Vera directly from the plant or obtain the gel from any drugstore. Cover the sore with the gel and leave it on. Reapply once or twice during the day or before bed.
Since UV light can trigger outbreaks, it is essential that you protect your lips by wearing sunscreen. This is as easy as applying actual sunscreen or purchasing lip gloss and lipsticks with SPF values no less than 15. Once outside, be certain to apply it at regular intervals.
- Styptic Pencil
These pencils contain Alum which, like ice, causes blood vessels to constrict. This can restrict the virus’ access to the skin and help reduce the length of the outbreak. It may be uncomfortable to use at first, but you will get used to it over time. To use this treatment, draw over the cold sores twice everyday (once in the morning and once at night). Continue using this remedy until these blisters goes away.
- Rubbing Alcohol
Like cornstarch and hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol is a drying agent that can dry out the cold sores and prevent a bacterial infection. For the best outcome, use rubbing alcohol that contains 70 percent ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. Usually this product will simply be labeled 70 percent alcohol or something similar. Begin applying it to the cold sore the moment you start feeling the tingling sensation and continue applying it once every day until the cold sore heals.
- Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly helps keep skin soft and supple, which can prevent the sores from bursting open prematurely or the scabs from It will also keep bacterial and other environmental agents out of the affected area to reduce the risk of a bacterial infection. Simply apply a thin layer of the jelly to the cold sore as soon as it starts coming out. Be certain to wash your hands before and after application. Also be gentle while applying the petroleum jelly.
- Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antifungal, antibiotic, antiviral, and antiseptic properties that make it an ideal remedy for a number of skin problems. It is also a drying agent that can dry out the cold sores, thus forcing it to heal faster. The anti-inflammatory properties of the oil also reduce the burning and itching sensations. Using a cotton swab, apply it to the affected area twice every day until it is fully healed.
Be careful when apply tea tree oil on the lips. This oil can be toxic when swallowed. Therefore, only use as much as needed to cover the sore, and avoid licking your lips. Make sure the area is completely dry before eating food or drinking fluids.
- Sea Salt
Another homemade remedy is to use sea salt. This is another drying agent that also contains minerals that help broken and inflamed skin heal faster. Combine one tea spoon of sea salt with lukewarm water and use a cotton swab to apply it on the cold sores. Rinsing your mouth with the solution can also treat cold sores that intrude on the soft tissues inside your mouth.
When to See a Doctor
Cold sores or fever blisters will usually resolve on their own in about 7 to 10 days (or faster if you use over-the-counter and homemade remedies) from the first sign of an eruption. It’s rare for a person to experience complications from a cold sore outbreak. Nevertheless, there are times when you should seek immediate medical attention such as when
- You develop a bacterial infection in the cold sore. You can usually tell this has occurred when pus begins draining from the sores.
- You become or are pregnant
- Your eyes become irritated
- The cold sores do not respond to treatment or remains longer than two weeks
You develop a fever (body temperature reads at or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
There is no vaccine that prevents the spread of the herpes virus and no cure for it at this time, so you’re stuck with the virus forever, once you are infected. Therefore, your best option is to avoid cold sore outbreaks as much as possible. Here are a few tips for accomplishing this.
- Get rid of your toothbrush as soon as the cold sores go away. The virus may continue to live in the fibers on the brush and can trigger another outbreak. Since the mouth of your toothpaste tube often comes into contact with your toothbrush, it’s best to toss that as well to be on the safe side.
- Only touch the cold sores to apply medication and be certain to wash your hands before and after doing so. Rubbing or picking at the cold sore will only aggravate it and damage your skin.
- Do not share medication or personal items with other people to avoid spreading the infection.
- Do not engage in kissing or oral sex until the sores have healed completely. This is the fastest way to transmit the infection to another person.
- Avoid cold sore triggers such as stress, bright sunlight, cold, and wind as much as possible. Keep a journal of your outbreaks to help determine what your triggers are and then reduce your exposure to them as much as possible.
Avoid, or significantly reduce, contact with pregnant women, newborn babies, or immunocompromised individuals (e.g. those going through chemotherapy or infected with HIV). Passing a herpes infection to someone in one of these groups could result in severe health consequences for that person.