How to Get Rid of Cold Sores Fast

October 7, 2020

What are Cold Sores?

A cold sore is a blistered bump that occurs around the mouth as a result of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

Cold sores are very common, with HSV-1 infecting over 50% of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49. 

About 40% of people infected with the virus will develop cold sores at least once in their lifetime as a result of the infection. It is easy to confuse cold sores for canker sores, but the two are actually quite different.

Canker sores are small lesions that develop inside the mouth, instead of around it. They are not contagious, and are not associated with HSV-1. Instead, canker sores form as an immune system reaction to a variety of conditions.

Causes and Triggers of Cold Sores?

Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Recurring cold sores are possible and can be triggered by:

  • Viral infection or fever can weaken the immune system, making it more likely for cold sores to flare up.

  • Hormonal changes – such as those related to menstruation – can indeed trigger cold sore outbreaks in some individuals.

  • Stress is a common trigger for cold sores. High levels of stress can weaken the immune system, making it easier for the virus to reactivate.

  • Fatigue or exhaustion can also weaken the body's defenses, leading to cold sore outbreaks.

  • Exposure to sunlight (UV rays) or wind can trigger cold sores in some people.

  • Any changes in the immune system, such as those due to illness or medication, can make someone more susceptible to cold sore outbreaks.

  • Injury to the skin around the mouth, such as from a cut or abrasion, can sometimes trigger cold sores.

Are Cold Sores Contagious?

Cold sores are extremely contagious, especially during an active outbreak phase when a blister is present. The infection spreads through close person-to-person contact — specifically kissing — as the sores appear around the mouth.

It’s possible to spread the virus when you don’t have present blisters, yet it is most contagious after the blisters have burst. No matter what degree of outbreak you are at, practicing caution is key to avoid spreading HSV-1. 

How to Prevent Cold Sores?

Preventing cold sores involves reducing exposure to triggers that can activate the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) and taking steps to maintain a healthy immune system. Here are some strategies to help prevent cold sores:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after touching your face, mouth, or cold sore lesions. Avoid touching your face or mouth unnecessarily.

Use lip balms or lip products that contain sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) to protect your lips from sun exposure, as sunlight can trigger cold sore outbreaks in some individuals.

Stress can weaken the immune system and trigger cold sore outbreaks. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or regular exercise to help manage stress levels.

Adequate sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to support your body's ability to fight off infections, including HSV-1.

A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help support immune function and reduce the frequency of cold sore outbreaks. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.

Identify and avoid triggers that can activate the herpes simplex virus and lead to cold sore outbreaks. Common triggers include illness, fatigue, hormonal changes, exposure to sunlight or cold weather, and certain foods (such as chocolate, nuts, and citrus fruits) for some.

What Not to Do With Cold Sores?

When dealing with cold sores, it's important to avoid certain actions that can worsen symptoms, prolong healing, or increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Here are some things you should not do with cold sores:

  • Touching or picking at the sore

  • Kissing or close contact

  • Sharing personal items: Do not share

  • Applying makeup or lip products

  • Exposing cold sores to sunlight

  • Using harsh or drying products

By avoiding these actions and following proper care guidelines, you can help manage cold sores more effectively and reduce their impact on your daily life.

Over-the-Counter Cold Sore Treatments

While there is no cure for HSV-1 or cold sores, there are several options for treating the infection effectively. 

Over-the-counter (OTC) ointments and creams are useful because they can alleviate symptoms and speed up the healing process.

One topical medication proven to be useful in treating cold sores is docosanol. You can also look for oral OTC options containing acyclovir. Both will help to decrease the severity and length of the outbreak.

Even though the medications are OTC, it is still important to talk to a healthcare provider and read the instructions on the bottle in order to ensure safe and effective usage.

Natural Remedies for Cold Sores

Getting your cold sores under control can be easy if you find the right home remedies. That being said, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any natural remedies, especially if you have sensitive skin or underlying health conditions.

Here are some of the most popular natural remedies for cold sores:

  • Lysine: Helps reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks. It's commonly found in supplement form or in lysine-rich foods like yogurt, cheese, and fish.

  • Ice packs: Cold compresses to the affected area can help reduce pain, swelling, and itching associated with cold sores.

  • Aloe vera: Soothes and reduces inflammation that can help relieve discomfort and promote healing. Applying aloe vera gel directly to the cold sore may help reduce symptoms.

  • Tea tree oil: Helps fight the herpes simplex virus responsible for cold sores. Diluted tea tree oil can be applied topically to the cold sore using a cotton swab.

  • Honey: Honey has natural antiviral and antibacterial properties that may help speed up the healing process of cold sores. Apply raw honey directly to the cold sore several times a day.

  • Lemon balm: Contains compounds that have been shown to inhibit the replication of the herpes simplex virus. Applying lemon balm ointment or cream to cold sores may help reduce symptoms and promote healing.

  • Echinacea: A herb that may help boost the immune system's response to viral infections. Taking echinacea supplements or drinking echinacea tea may help reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks.

  • Licorice root: A root that contains glycyrrhizin, which has antiviral properties. Applying licorice root ointment or cream to cold sores may help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

  • Lemon and peppermint essential oils: Essential oils have antiviral properties that may help fight the herpes simplex virus. Dilute the essential oils with a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) and apply them to the cold sore several times a day.

  • Maintain good hygiene: Keep the affected area clean and dry to prevent the spread of the virus. Avoid touching the cold sore, and wash your hands thoroughly after applying any remedies.

None of these are magical cures for cold sores, but they all have the potential to expedite the healing process during an HSV-1 outbreak.

Prescription Medications and Medical Interventions

Depending on the severity of the outbreak, seeking medical intervention to treat cold sores may be necessary. 

If you experience frequent outbreaks that are becoming increasingly severe, Rex MD can help you get the right prescribed medication for you.

Prescribe antiviral medication may include:

  • Topical: docosanol or acyclovir cream

  • Oral: acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir

  • Intravenous (IV): foscarnet or cidofovir

These prescription medications will reduce the intensity of your symptoms and help heal the outbreak faster.

When to See a Doctor

Listen to your body and pay attention to any signs of developing cold sores. Taking prompt action at these first signs is crucial for treating cold sores effectively.

If you think you’ve been infected with HSV-1 and are concerned about cold sores, make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider. Your doctor can recommend a combination of home remedies, OTC treatments, and prescription medication, if needed.

Everyone’s experience with cold sores is different – Rex MD can help find the treatment plan that works best for you.