What causes cold sores?
Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) can appear when you’re sick, stressed, or menstruating.
Dr. William Cole, a functional medicine expert, says that cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). A whopping three million cases of HSV-1 infection are reported annually, and about 85 percent of individuals contract it when they reach 60 years old. HSV-2 causes outbreaks of the sexually transmitted disease (STD) genital herpes.
Individuals infected with HSV-1 usually don’t experience any symptoms. The only confirmation of infection is the appearance of cold sores. If a cold sore appears for the first time as part of a primary infection, you may have severe HSV-1.
Cold sores are considered a symptom of HSV-1 and 2, and they are usually the only recurring sign that you have been infected by the virus.
Symptoms of herpes infection may include:
- Blisters, lesions, or ulcers on the tongue or mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lip swelling
- Mouth or tongue pain
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
Cold sores are highly contagious so the best way to prevent them from spreading is to wash your hands with soapy water frequently, especially before and after applying lip balm or ointment to open sores. Washing your hands thoroughly also prevents cold sores from spreading to other parts of the body, like your eyes and genitals.
These three natural remedies can help hasten the healing time of an ongoing cold sore outbreak.
Hasten healing with essential oils.
Some essential oils in the mint family, particularly lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and peppermint, help speed up the healing process of cold sores.
In a randomized, double-blind trial, researchers observed 116 patients with herpes simplex cold sores. About 96 percent of the participants reported that their lesions cleared up after eight days of using one percent lemon balm extract cream five times a day. The study was published in the journal Herbal Medicine.
A separate study revealed that peppermint essential oil helps treat cold sores. Scientists noted that 99 percent of the virus was killed within hours of exposure to peppermint oil.
Before you use essential oils, dilute them in carrier oils. You can combine four to five drops of lemon balm or peppermint essential oils with a tablespoon of coconut oil, which also possesses antiviral properties. Apply the mixture several times daily. (Related: A guide to preventing and treating cold sores using home remedies.)
L-lysine can stop cold sores in its early stages.
L-lysine is an amino acid that can block arginine, an amino acid that HSV-1 needs to replicate and grow.
Consult a physician to determine if you can safely take a 1,000-milligram oral lysine supplement twice or thrice a day. Alternatively, you can add lysine-rich foods like organic poultry and wild-caught fish to your diet.
Topical lysine products can help shorten the normal course of an HSV-1 outbreak.
Zinc-based creams can address cold sores.
Zinc oxide is effective against burns, rashes, skin irritations, and cold sores.
In a randomized clinical trial, scientists found that volunteers who began treatment with zinc at least 24 hours after a cold sore flare-up recovered a day earlier than those who didn’t receive the same treatment. The zinc-treated participants also reported a significant reduction in the severity of their symptoms. The study was published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
After applying a natural zinc-based cream, add more foods that contain zinc to your diet, such as:
- Grass-fed beef
- Organ meats (e.g., liver)
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Wild-caught fish
The best way to prevent cold sores is to manage your stress levels, especially since stress affects how your immune system fights infections.
You should also get enough sleep at night. Not getting enough sleep can increase your inflammation levels and weaken your immune system.
Manage stress, get enough sleep every night, and try natural remedies like essential oils, L-lysine, and zinc-based creams to treat pesky cold sores.