Cold sore remedies to try at home
Dr. Aysha Butt is the Medical Director of FROM MARS, and is a GP Partner at Woodcote NHS Medical Practice.
Cold sores can be a nightmare. They don’t look great, they can itch, and they can put a temporary halt on your sex life.
But there are meds you can take and cold sore home remedies you can try to ease the symptoms and even help clear them up faster.
What is a cold sore?
Cold sores are small sores and blisters that usually form around the mouth, but sometimes on the chin, cheeks, inside the nose, and inside the mouth. They can be itchy and sore, and the blisters can contain fluid, which if they burst can leak out and dry up, making the skin feel rough and crusty around the cold sores.
What causes cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by an infection of a herpes virus, usually the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), but sometimes by the HSV-2 virus which more often causes genital herpes.
The virus gets onto your skin through bodily contact, such as by touching someone’s face if they have cold sores, or that person touching their own face and then touching you. Once on your skin, the virus gets into your body through convenient openings, like your mouth or via a cut or break in the skin. The virus then multiplies and spreads through your skin cells, causing the blisters and sores to form.
How to get rid of a cold sore?
Once you’ve been infected with a herpes simplex virus, unfortunately it’s with you for life, meaning you can’t completely get rid of it. Your body fights the infection in your skin cells, and usually the blisters clear up after a week or two. However, the virus also spreads to the nerve cells in the skin, where it stays permanently. Most of the time the virus lies dormant and you have no symptoms, but every now and then the virus reactivates and spreads into your skin again, and you have another outbreak of cold sores.
How long do cold sores last?
Cold sores usually last from one to two weeks, although they can last up to four weeks and even longer. Some of the treatments we talk about here can help you clear cold sores up quicker.
Do cold sores mean you have an STD?
No. But if someone with cold sores gives oral sex to someone else, they can pass the virus to that person’s genitals, giving them genital herpes, which is an STD.
How to treat cold sores?
You’ve got a range of options for tackling cold sores. Some help ease the symptoms, some can even help your body clear them up faster, and some can even prevent outbreaks from happening.
Cold sore treatments to clear up outbreaks faster
Some cold sore treatments have antiviral properties which can kill the herpes virus, slowing its spread through your skin cells, helping your immune system clear it up faster. So, if you’re asking what can heal a cold sore fast, these are the treatments to try:
Valaciclovir and Valtrex
We’ll start with the best first. Valaciclovir and Valtrex are prescription anti-viral drugs which help your body fight the herpes virus. They’re taken as a pill when the first symptoms of an outbreak appear to help clear them up faster. Valaciclovir and Valtrex can also be taken daily as a way of preventing future outbreaks from occurring, but more on that later.
Over the counter medications
You can also buy medications to treat cold sores with don’t require a prescription, but these are often not as effective for most people as valaciclovir and Valtrex. One of these is acyclovir, which is an antiviral which helps you fight the herpes virus, reducing the severity of outbreaks, and clearing them up faster. This is often sold as a cream.
Aloe Vera is a plant that contains a gel-like substance inside its leaves. This gel has been claimed to have soothing, moisturising, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, and although these claims aren’t always supported by science, there is evidence that Aloe Vera gel can help reduce inflammation and slow the spread of herpes viruses. You can find Aloe Vera gel in plenty of face creams and gels that you can apply directly to the cold sores.
Cold sore treatments that help you manage symptoms
These treatments won’t help you clear an outbreak up faster, but they can help you manage the symptoms that accompany cold sores, like pain and inflammation, making outbreaks more bearable. They can be used alongside other treatments which fight the virus directly.
Ibuprofen is a pain killer and an anti-inflammatory. It can reduce any pain that accompanies cold sores and can reduce any inflammation around them.
An ice pack, or ice cubes or frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth, can also reduce inflammation around cold sores, and can help dull pain.
Cold sore treatments that help you stop outbreaks from happening
Rather than treating cold sores once they’ve emerged, there are even treatments you can take to make outbreaks less likely to happen.
Valaciclovir and Valtrex
Valaciclovir and Valtrex can be taken in low doses to stop an outbreak of a herpes virus before it even happens. You can take a daily dose, particularly if you think something has triggered an outbreak and cold sores are about to emerge.
Sunlight on your skin can trigger outbreaks of cold sores. Wearing sunscreen, especially on sunny days, can lower the odds of cold sores making an appearance.
Stress reduction and avoiding other triggers
Sun isn’t the only trigger for cold sores. An outbreak can be instigated by a range of triggers, including stress, fatigue, other illnesses, feeling rundown, certain foods, and some things that are just unique to you. Taking care of yourself and avoiding your triggers is one of the best ways to minimise the number of outbreaks you have.
You don’t have to suffer cold sores gracefully. You have a range of treatments you can take to manage the symptoms, to clear them up faster, and to even stop outbreaks from happening.