A cold sore is a small, painful blister caused by a virus. It usually appears on the lips or around the mouth and can also spread to other areas of the face, such as the nose or chin.
Cold sores are also called fever blisters. The virus that causes cold sores is the Herpes Simplex virus (HSV). This virus is contagious and may be spread through close contact with infected persons, like kissing. The sores don’t have to be visible to be contagious, which means you may get the virus from someone that doesn’t even have the sores.
People often mistake cold sores for canker sores, especially in children. The two conditions are different. Canker sores are not caused by HSV, unlike cold sores. They are also not as severe and difficult to treat as cold sores.
Cold sores are typically painful and may lead to severe illnesses in children. It gets worse. There is no cure for this virus, which may reappear after a while. They typically last around two to three weeks.
Although there is no cure for the viral infection, some medications and treatment options can help manage the condition. Some treatment options may even prevent them from ever reappearing. This article will examine some of those ways. You will also learn more about the causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent cold sores.
Symptoms of a cold sore
Here are some common stages of this condition.
1. Itching: One of the earliest and most common symptoms of a cold sore is an itching sensation on or around the affected area. The itching may be mild to severe and can be accompanied by a burning or tingling feeling.
2. Swelling: As the cold sore develops, the affected area may become swollen and tender to the touch. The area may become red and may even feel warm.
3. Blistering: After a few days, a small blister or group of blisters may form on or around the affected area. These blisters may be filled with clear fluid and may be painful.
4. Scabbing: As the blisters dry, they may form a yellowish or grayish scab. The scab may be itchy and may crack or bleed if it is touched or scratched.
5. Crusting: After the scab has formed, it may crust over and form a thick layer of dried skin. This crusty layer may be itchy and have a burning or stinging sensation.
6. Pain: As the cold sore begins to heal, the affected area may become painful. The pain may range from mild to severe and last several days.
7. Fever: Sometimes, a fever may accompany a cold sore. This fever may accompany other cold sore symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and body aches.
Common Causes of a Cold Sore
1. Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1)
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV–1) is the most common viral cause of cold sores. HSV–1 is a contagious virus that can be spread through direct contact with an infected person.
When contracted, it stays in the body for life and can cause recurrent outbreaks. The virus can be spread through contact with saliva, sharing utensils, kissing, and oral sex. Symptoms of HSV–1 include tingling, itching, burning, and pain around the mouth, followed by blisters that can last for up to a week.
2. Sun Exposure
Sun exposure can also contribute to cold sores. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can weaken the body’s immune system and make it easier for the virus to take hold. Additionally, sunburns can irritate the skin and make it more prone to sores.
Stress can also be a factor in cold sores. Too much stress can weaken the immune system and make it harder for the body to fight the virus. Additionally, stress can cause the body to produce more hormones that contribute to cold sores.
4. Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes can also trigger cold sores. During hormonal flux, such as during pregnancy or menstruation, the body’s pH levels can become unbalanced and make it easier for the virus to take hold.
5. Immune System Suppression
People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or AIDS, may be more prone to cold sores. This is because their bodies are not as able to fight off the virus. Additionally, medications such as chemotherapy or corticosteroids can suppress the immune system and make it easier for the virus to take hold.
14 Home Remedies to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Fast
Medications are not the only way to go when treating cold sores. There are home remedies for cold sores that do not require medications or prescriptions. Some of them are listed below.
1. Cold and damp compression
You can ease cold sores symptoms by cold and damp compression. The way to do this is simple. Get a clean washcloth and soak it in cold water. After squeezing the washcloth, it will be cold and damp.
Gently massage the infected areas with this washcloth. Another way to do this is to wrap ice in a towel and apply it over the cold sores. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
2. Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly can ease the symptoms of cold sores. Like Vaseline, petroleum jellies are thick and serve as a protective barrier to prevent further infection of the affected areas.
Petroleum jelly also softens the affected skin, thereby reducing irritation. Although petroleum jelly may not directly heal cold sores, they reduce the risk of the condition worsening.
To apply, take a dab and coat over the cold sore. You can use it three or four times a day until the cold sores disappear.
3. Witch hazel
Witch hazel is an astringent that can cause cold sores to dry, healing them in the process. It may sting upon application, and people with sensitive skin may react negatively.
Before applying it to the cold sores, apply a small amount to another body part. If you don’t feel any adverse or weird effects, apply them to the cold sores. Apply to the cold sore using a cotton ball about two or three times a day.
4. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is a very effective home remedy because it can directly attack and kill the virus. Once the virus dies, cold sores will duly disappear. As with many other treatments here, apply using a clean cotton swab.
Pay attention to the oil concentration, as too high concentrations may irritate the skin, worsening symptoms. Before applying peppermint oil, you should also ensure the affected area is not greasy or dirty.
5. Rubbing alcohol
You can treat your cold sores using rubbing alcohol, containing about 70% ethanol, to be precise. Alcohol helps to dry out the sores, which hastens their healing.
Alcohol rapidly evaporates when exposed to the skin, giving a cooling effect in the process. This cooling effect may also provide some form of relief. Another benefit is that alcohol is a disinfectant, making it difficult for bacteria to thrive in affected areas. Apply alcohol using a cotton ball or swab.
Look what we have here. Milk can help treat cold sores and also ease some of their symptoms. Milk is rich in lysine, which can treat cold sores by inhibiting an amino acid, arginine, that can trigger the cold sores. In addition, the cool temperature of milk can relieve the pain and discomfort caused by cold sores.
Soak a cotton ball in 1 tablespoon of milk, and apply it to the sore for a few minutes. Other lysine supplements can also help in the same fashion. Apply milk directly to the cold sores using a cotton ball.
Note: You can also put the milk in the refrigerator in advance, wrap it in a towel, and place it on the sore.
Well, this only makes sense. You have a condition characterized by painful blisters, so use painkillers. This will not treat the disease, but it will make it bearable.
You can use over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, or topical painkillers, like lidocaine. Creams and ointments are the preferred option because many have the added benefit of holding moisture in.
8. Aloe vera
Aloe vera may also help bring some relief through its cooling effect. This gel will not necessarily heal the cold sores but can help ease its symptoms.
Aloe vera gel in the Aloe vera is a natural anti-inflammatory. It has anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects that can naturally help eliminate cold sores.
You may use aloe vera gel, gotten directly from the aloe plant, or aloe vera lip balm. Apply using a cotton ball two to three times a day.
Note: Fresh aloe vera gel works better than purchased gel.
9. Sea salt
Sea salt can ease some symptoms of cold sores and heal broken and inflamed skin. People with sensitive skin may feel tingling and stinging when they use sea salt. Don’t apply the salt directly.
It would help to make a warm salt solution by adding one tablespoon of salt to a cup of warm water. After making a solution, massage the affected areas with a cotton ball.
An alternative treatment is to rinse the warm solution around the mouth’s corners and the lips’ inner part.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is often used to treat various skin discomforts, including cold sores. It has antiviral, anti-fungal, bactericidal, and anti-infection properties that can help reduce pain. It can also dry cold sores and reduces the size of cold sores by up to 50%.
Apply tea tree oil to the cold sores with cotton balls twice daily. If you have susceptible skin, you may need to dilute it with equal water before use.
Note: Tea tree oil is harmful when ingested, so be careful when using it near your mouth.
Licorice root is a well-known anti-inflammatory as it contains glycyrrhizic acid. This acid can kill the virus that causes a cold sore. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties that help alleviate pain and discomfort.
Mix one tablespoon of licorice root powder with 1/2 or 1 teaspoon of water. Apply the mixture directly to the cold sore.
Note: Leave it on for less than a few hours or overnight.
12. Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Extract is a natural anti-inflammatory that comes from Vanilla. This extract has anti-infection properties that can help eliminate the viral infection responsible for cold sores.
Use a dropper to drop a few drops of vanilla extract onto the sterile cotton ball. Apply this directly to the cold sore 1 to 2 times each day.
Note: Never use artificial vanilla since it will not work and does not know the components.
13. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is also known as Melissa officinalis. It has antiviral properties that can help reduce the redness and swelling of the skin. In addition, it can help relieve pain and protect against future infections.
Wash the skin around the cold sore carefully. Then apply 1 percent lemon balm to the cold sore 1-2 times every day.
Note: You can also use a lemon balm infusion for similar benefits.
Applying a pack of Ice to the cold sores can help ease the discomfort and inflammation. This can help lessen irritation and relieve pain.
Note: Ensure not to put ice directly on the skin; it will worsen the condition.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore with Medicine
1. Oral medications
Antiviral medications may be in the form of pills you can swallow. Examples of oral antivirals your doctor may prescribe are famciclovir, acyclovir, and valacyclovir. Note the word prescribe, as these drugs are only available by prescription.
2. Topical medications
The antiviral medications for cold sores may be topical, meaning they may exist as creams and ointments you can apply locally on the infected sites. Some of these medications need a prescription, like penciclovir, while others, like docosanol, don’t require a prescription.
3. Systemic medications
The antiviral medications may also be intravenous, which means they will be injected directly into your bloodstream. This particular treatment option is usually reserved for people with severe symptoms.
How to Prevent a cold sore?
The following steps may help prevent this condition’s occurrence and limit its spread.
1. Practice Good Hygiene: Washing your hands often and keeping your environment clean can help reduce your risk of contracting a cold sore. This includes washing your hands after touching a sore and avoiding sharing items such as towels and utensils with someone with an active cold sore.
2. Avoid Triggers: Certain elements can trigger a cold sore, such as sunlight, stress, hormonal changes, and a weakened immune system. If you can identify what triggers your cold sores and take steps to avoid them, you can reduce your risk of an outbreak.
3. Get Enough Sleep: Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to cold sores. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night and take naps as needed.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet: A healthy diet can help keep your immune system strong and reduce your risk of cold sores. Focus on eating various fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins and whole grains.
5. Stay Hydrated: Staying hydrated is important for overall health and can help reduce your risk of cold sores. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily and avoid dehydrating beverages like caffeine and alcohol.
6. Manage Stress: Stress can trigger cold sores and make them worse. Take steps to manage your stress levels by exercising, meditating, or talking to someone.
7. Practice Sun Safety: Exposure to sunlight can trigger cold sores, so it’s important to practice sun safety. Wear a wide–brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when you’re outside.
8. Use Lip Balm: Applying lip balm with sunscreen can help protect your lips from the sun’s harmful UV rays and reduce your risk of cold sores.