For thousands of people around the world, the change of the seasons brings with it a cold sore outbreak. These painful blisters on the lips and cheeks are quite common, but they can still be unsightly and embarrassing. When a cold sore appears, one of your biggest priorities is likely to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the viral infection that causes cold sores, nor is there a remedy that makes cold sores disappear overnight. Some doctors may prescribe antiviral medications in order to help cold sores heal faster, but what if you want a natural alternative?
Many home remedies have been shown to be effective when treating cold sores. If you find yourself tingling, burning or itching during an outbreak, here’s what you should know.
Prevention is best, whenever possible
After you contract the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), there’s a chance you’ll get cold sores every year for the rest of your life. Since the virus has no cure, it can spring up again and again over time. The virus’s unpredictability can be frustrating; however, there are a few things that tend to trigger cold sores, particularly around this time of year.
When you first experience a cold sore, you may not be able to tell what triggered it initially. But, over time, you might be able to pick up on patterns of when your cold sores appear. Identifying and avoiding these triggers might help you avoid getting a cold sore to begin with!
In general, these triggers are related to immunity. Colds and illness, stress, fatigue and cold weather are all known to trigger cold sore outbreaks—which is why fall and winter are when cold sores are most prevalent. By maintaining good immunity through a healthy diet, exercise, proper sleep, probiotics and avoiding bad habits, you can bolster your immune system and make it harder for HSV-1 to reproduce and cause a cold sore.
There are also other types of potential cold sore triggers that might be more unique to you. For example, some foods have been known to trigger cold sores, including sugary foods, whole grains, grape juice, chocolate and beer. If you know that you tend to get a cold sore after eating a particular food, try to avoid eating that food to prevent an outbreak.
Home remedies for cold sores
Unfortunately, preventing cold sore outbreaks isn’t always possible. A pesky, painful blister might appear out of nowhere, in which case, you’ll want to treat it as soon as possible so it heals as fast as it possibly can.
Rather than turn to prescription medications, give one or more of these natural remedies a try:
- Ice: Ice is a great, natural way to temporarily soothe the pain or itchiness associated with cold sores while you wait for other methods to help the cold sore heal and clear your outbreak. Apply loose ice in a plastic bag or an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to your cold sore for a few minutes, allowing the cold temperature to reduce swelling and redness.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that can help reduce the swelling and irritation of a cold sore, improving your comfort and moisturizing the area, which may be dry or cracked. Some studies have also shown that aloe vera may have anti-viral effects to actually help the cold sore heal.
- Tea tree oil: The essential oil tea tree contains antibacterial and anti-viral properties that may help the cold sore dry up and heal faster. Because essential oils are concentrated, you should mix a drop or two of tea tree oil in a gentle carrier oil like coconut oil before applying a small amount on the cold sore.
- L-lysine: L-lysine, an essential amino acid that’s not produced by the body, can be found in supplement form or as a cream. Research shows that L-lysine is effective at bolstering the immune system, which is imperative for cold sore treatments. Taking or applying L-lysine may help reduce the severity of cold sore outbreaks and may even prevent them in the future.
- Immune supplements: Other forms of natural supplements designed to bolster immunity, including specially formulated supplements for cold sores, typically use a blend of herbs and nutrients to improve immunity and reduce inflammation. Combined, these herbs can help reduce the severity of your current outbreak and potentially minimize outbreaks in the future.
For the average person, treating a cold sore at home using natural remedies might be a safe and effective option. However, if your cold sore outbreaks are persistent and are getting in the way of you living a normal life, speak with your doctor about your options and if another form of cold sore treatment is right for you.