Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that occur around the mouth and are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1).
I know what you’re thinking: YUCK.
Hearing that you have oral herpes can be pretty shocking at first, but before you go freaking out at your partner, you should know that 90% of all people have the herpes simplex virus 1.
While you may have been incredibly frustrated to wake up and find a cold sore staring back at you in the mirror, it’s probably even more frustrating to know that, despite carrying the herpes virus, there are some people who will never have a cold sore during their lives. The virus will forever lay dormant and never cause any problems.
Most people, however, will experience at least or two cold sores in their lifetime, most likely triggered by include stress, fatigue, a hormone imbalance, or environmental factors like extreme temperatures or getting too much sun.
As you can see, these common cold sore triggers are fairly common occurrences, so there’s no reason to feel embarrassed if you do, in fact, develop a cold sore.
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And how, exactly, can you tell the difference between a regular blister and a cold sore?
Cold sores begin as a tingling spot on the face, followed by a blister or a cluster of blisters, which then burst, ooze, and crust over.
There is no doubt about it, cold sores are very frustrating.
They always seem to appear at the most inconvenient times—even worse, these painful bumps can take weeks to fully heal.
Anyone who’s ever had a cold sore knows first-hand the urgency behind a search for fast and effective remedies. In fact, I’m often asked, “What is the best treatment for cold sores?”
So, let’s get right to it. Here are the top treatments for cold sores that actually work.
The Top Seven Cold Sore Treatments
- Support your immune system—Supporting your immune system is my number one recommendation for getting rid of cold sores and preventing them in the future. As I already mentioned, most people are currently carrying the herpes simplex virus 1, so when you a cold sore erupts, it’s usually because some external factor has triggered a weakened immune system has been weakened.
Here are the best ways to boost your immune system:
- Eat a whole food-based, nutrient-dense diet
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of fat soluble vitamins
- Take probiotics (I recommend an oral probiotic as well as a regular one)
- Make sure you heal any underlying gut issues, such as leaky gut
2. Supplement with propolis—Bee propolis, which is found is bee pollen, has been shown to be effective against cold sores. One study found that the popular extract was effective against both HSV1 and HSV2 sores. (1)
YS Bee Farms' Bee Propolis 1000mg Capsules
3. L– Lysine—L-lysine is an amino acid needed for protein synthesis. It has also been shown to reduce severity and healing time of cold sores, as well as recurrence. (2) Foods high in l-lysine include grass-fed beef, poultry, pork, and cheese.
4. Lemon Balm—Lemon balm is an herb in the mint family that can be purchased in extract form. Studies have found lemon balm to be effective against cold sores (3), and you can find the extract in your local health food store or incorporated into ointments.
5. Zinc oxide/glycine cream—Zinc oxide and glycine cream has been shown in studies to reduce the duration of cold sore development. (4)
6. Over-the-counter antiviral medications—There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that claim to speed the healing from cold sores. Choose products that include benzyl alcohol or docosanol (Abreva) for greatest efficacy, as they can help to dry out the sore and also provide pain relief.
Abreva Docosanol10% Cream
7. Prescription antiviral medications—Because cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus 1, antiviral medications can be beneficial in the healing process. The two most common antiviral medications prescribed for cold sores are acyclovir and valacyclovir.
While each of these remedies can certainly help to slow cold sore development, it’s important to note that they won’t solve the problem completely.
Addressing the root causes of cold sores means discovering the underlying health issues that triggered the outbreak and working to prevent them altogether.
How to Prevent Cold Sores
Here are five ways to prevent the reoccurrence of cold sores:
- Reduce triggers – Triggers of cold sores can differ from person-to-person, but they generally include stress, fatigue, and excessive sunlight. Be sure to practice stress relieving strategies, like meditation, journaling, and spending time in nature. I also advise patients to get enough exercise and enough sleep, as both of these are key to good oral health.
- Support and maintain a healthy immune system – For many people prone to cold sores an outbreak can often occur when the immune system is weakened. With that in mind, a good way to prevent cold sores is to implement immune system supporting techniques, which include:
- Get plenty of vitamin C and D
- Get plenty of good sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet
(*NOTE: Supporting your immune system made it on the list for treating cold sores, as well as the list for preventing cold sores. This is obviously very important and something that should be taken very seriously.)
- Get plenty of fat soluble vitamins—Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, E, D, and K. Not only do they support immune system health, but they can also help relieve cold sore symptoms, including pain, redness, and the blisters themselves.
- Don’t share items with someone who’s experiencing an outbreak—Like any viral condition, cold sores can be contagious, so be sure to avoid contact with anyone who has visible cold sores, as well as any items that may have come in contact with their lips or mouth.
Replace your toothbrush regularly—The longer you keep a toothbrush around, the more likely it is that it is harboring yucky bacteria and viruses, including the virus that causes cold sores. It’s especially important to replace your toothbrush immediately following an outbreak to ensure that you don’t re-infect yourself.
The Difference Between Cold Sores and Canker Sores
The difference between cold sores and canker sores is that cold sores are caused by a virus. Canker sores are considered mouth ulcers and can be caused by injury (ie. biting your cheek), oral hygiene products that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), nutrient deficiencies (especially zinc, iron, and vitamin B12), hormone imbalances, and an oral microbiome imbalance.
You can read more about this in my article, Cold Sores vs. Canker Sores: Why You Should Know The Difference.
Common Cold Sore FAQs
I get a lot of questions from readers about cold sores, so I wanted to be sure to address some of those concerns by answering the most commonly asked questions I receive
How do you make a cold sore go away fast?
How long does it take for a typical cold sore to heal?
Are cold sores contagious?
If you’re wondering how long you can infect others, you should consider yourself contagious until the blister is 100%, completely healed and you no longer have any tingling or itching sensations around your mouth. Cold sores can be transmitted through saliva, so you want to be sure not to share food or drinks, or kiss anyone during this time period.
How do I get rid of a cold sore overnight?
But while it’s nearly impossible to heal a cold sore overnight, you can drastically reduce the duration of the blister if you take action at first sign of any tingling sensation, before the sore ever erupts.
Remember, cold sore formation is closely associated with the strength of your immune system. When you strengthen your immune system you give your body a better chance at pushing the herpes simplex virus back into remission.
Cold Sores Are a Sign from Your Body
Ultimately, if you come down with a cold sore, try not to panic.
I know they can be incredibly embarrassing and painful, but the worst thing you can do for your immune system in that situation is to worry or stress.
If you do get a cold sore, think of it as your body trying to get your attention. Take note of what you’ve been eating, doing, and how your stress levels have been.
See if you can identify the trigger that caused your cold sore to erupt. Then, you work to speed the healing process and reduce your odds of getting one in the future.