Cold sores are viral infections characterized by tiny, red, fluid-filled blisters that form around the mouth region and other parts of the face. They aren’t limited to just the face, though, as they may also appear on the fingers and inside the mouth.
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 the 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 serious illnesses in children. It gets worse. There is no cure for this virus, and they 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 altogether.
Symptoms of a cold sore
If a person is infected with the Herpes Simplex virus, it is only a matter of time before cold sores start to appear. It may appear a few days after infection. For some people, it may take up to twenty days before appearing. Here are some common stages of this condition.
- The first stage is a tingling, itching, or burning sensation near the mouth. This tingling and itching may occur several days before the development of the cold sores and may last for a day.
- The next stage is the formation of blisters. These blisters are usually red, elevated above the skin surface, and fluid-filled. They typically occur along the borders of the lips and may form in clusters. There is also pain and tenderness in the affected areas.
- After the formation of the blisters, they may clump together and burst. The fluid in the blister oozes out, and the open sores may crust. Scabs form on the sore. These sores may crack or bleed if strained or itched.
- The last stage of cold sores is the falling off of the scab, which usually signals the condition’s healing.
Aside from these stages, you may also notice some other symptoms, especially if this is the first time you have cold sores. Some of those symptoms are:
- Redness and swelling of the gums
- Sore throat
- A burning sensation inside the mouth
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Swollen lymph nodes
The cold sores may remain on the lip for about weeks and are contagious until they crust. They may also reappear in the same spot from time to time after the infection’s first outbreak.
Talking about the first outbreak, it is usually the most severe, with recurrent outbreaks having milder symptoms. Children may fall very ill in their first cold sores outbreak.
Common Causes of a Cold Sore
As earlier mentioned, cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex virus. There are two strains of this virus: the HSV-1, known as type 1, and the HSV-2, known as type 2.
Although both types can cause cold sores, it is the HSV-1 that typically causes cold sores. HSV-2, on the other hand, usually causes genital herpes. However, HSV-1 can also cause genital sores. The sores on the genitals are similar to those in the mouth.
Cold sores are contagious, both when visible and when you can’t see them. However, it is easier to contract the virus from a person with visible sores because the blisters may ooze, and you can easily come in contact with the infected fluid. You can get the virus from close contact with an infected person, such as kissing, oral sex, and sharing utensils and sharp objects.
Having the virus does not necessarily mean you will develop cold sores or genital sores. In fact, close to 90% of the world’s population have at least one strain of the virus.
After the first outbreak of the condition, the virus remains dormant in the body, and cold sores may reappear around the same location as the first outbreak from time to time.
Certain things can trigger a recurrence of cold sores, some of which are:
- Skin injury
- Menstruation and other hormonal changes
- Exposure to intense sunlight
- Cosmetic surgery
- A compromised immune system, usually during some illnesses, like AIDS
- Dental work
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 go about 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 the cold sores, they reduce the risk of the condition worsening.
To apply, simply take a dab and coat over the cold sore. You can apply three or four times a day until the cold sores disappear.
3. Witch hazel
Witch hazel is an astringent, meaning it can cause the cold sores to dry out, healing it in the process. It may sting upon application, and people with sensitive skin may also react negatively to it.
Before applying it to the cold sores, apply a small amount to another part of the body. If you don’t feel any negative or weird effects, go ahead and apply 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 remedies here, apply using a clean cotton swab.
It is important to pay attention to the oil concentration, as too high concentrations may irritate the skin, which will make symptoms worse. You should also make sure the affected area is not greasy or dirty before applying peppermint oil.
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 its 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 its 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, doesn’t it? You have a condition characterized by painful blisters, so just use painkillers. This will not treat the condition, but it will make it very 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 by 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 help get rid of cold sores naturally.
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 of the symptoms of cold sores and also heal broken and inflamed skin. People with sensitive skin may feel some tingling and stinging sensation when they use sea salt. Don’t apply the salt directly.
You need to make a warm solution of the salt by adding one tablespoon of salt to a cup of warm water. After making a solution, you can use a cotton ball to massage the affected areas.
An alternative treatment is also to rinse the warm solution round the corners of the mouth and inner part of the lips.
10. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is often used to treat various skin discomforts including cold sores. It has anti-viral, anti-fungal, bactericidal, and anti-infection properties that can help reduces pain. It can also dry the cold sores and reduces the size of cold sores up to 50%.
Apply tea tree oil to the cold sores with cotton balls twice a day. If you have very sensitive skin, you may need to dilute it with an equal amount of 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 1 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 no 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 get rid of 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 to get 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: Make sure to not put ice directly on the skin, it will worsen the condition.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore with Medicine
As you may know by now, there is no cure for cold sores. While this doesn’t mean they can’t be managed or treated, it means the virus remains in the body even after treatment. The cold sores may reoccur if the virus is reactivated.
With that said, there are many treatment options for this condition. One treatment option is the use of medications. Your doctor can prescribe antiviral medications to help combat the condition. The earlier you use these medications, the faster the healing of the condition. The medications can be oral, topical, or systemic.
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 use of 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
If you know some of the triggers of cold sores, you can prevent this condition from developing altogether. The following steps may help prevent the occurrence of this condition and also limit its spread.
- Limit close contact with people that have blisters. This probably goes without saying. If you notice blisters in a person, especially when they are open, you should avoid close contact with them as much as possible.
- Use sunburns or reduce the time you spend exposed to sunlight. Sunlight is a trigger in some people, so you can apply sunscreens to areas where you’ve had cold sores before to prevent its recurrence. And as much as possible, stay away from excessive sunlight.
- Avoid sharing utensils, towels, and sharp objects with people that have cold sores blisters.
- Proper hygiene is important when you have the condition to prevent spreading to other people. Wash your hands before you touch other people, particularly children.