Cold sores are viral infections that cause fluid-filled blisters around the mouth, lips, cheeks, and nose. These blisters can be painful and let's be honest, downright unattractive. If the sores haven’t formed scabs or if they're oozing, it can mean that they're highly contagious and can easily spread to other parts of the body – so no smooching! Fortunately, there are some natural home remedies that can help you get rid of cold sores in your mouth or on your lip fast either overnight or within one day.
How long do canker sores last?
Also known as fever blisters, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). They often clear up within 7 to 10 days. Patients who are already infected with this virus often don’t develop any signs and symptoms. The type-1 virus can spread from one person to another through sharing of razors, towels, eating utensils, oral sex and kissing. Even though the virus might be present in the body, it often lies dormant in the nerve cells of the skin until it’s triggered at a later date (1).
What causes recurring cold sores?
Nearly 90% of the population already has the herpes simplex in their bloodstream. A majority of this population have been infected with the virus since childhood. This primary infection, in most cases, does not cause any symptoms. Nevertheless, around 30% of the infected people often experience cold sores when the herpes simplex antibodies have been triggered by certain factors (2).
Herpes labialis is most contagious when the cold sores are in their 'weeping' stage – when they ooze out – so don’t go around sharing utensils, cups, or kisses with someone who has a cold sore, that's when you can develop recurring ones. Factors that can cause these breakouts include fever, menstruation, stress, and even sun exposure. Try to lead a healthy lifestyle including getting enough sleep, eating gut-friendly foods and wearing sun screen.
What causes a cold sore breakout?
Everyone has a unique anatomy, therefore, the triggers that cause cold sores can differ from one person to another. By identifying these triggers, you may be able to reduce the cold sore breakouts and even speed up the healing process. Here are a few common triggers that are likely to make your cold sores flare up:
• fever and illness
• extreme mental or emotional stress
• exposure to intense sunlight
• feeling tired or fatigued
• hormonal changes during menstruation
• weak immune system
• trauma to the skin
Best home remedies for cold sores
Though the sores may clear up within a few days without treatment, you can use these home remedies to ease the discomfort and help diminish the appearance of fever blisters or canker sores.
1. Ice cubes
People claim that applying ice on a cold sore when it first starts to develop can reduce the swelling, redness and pain quickly. All you need to do is to wrap an ice cube in a clean cloth and then place it over the affected area for about 10 to 20 minutes. Make sure you repeat this 4 to 5 times a day for better results.
Garlic is proven to contain antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties which can greatly help to treat fever blisters. Besides that, it has anti-inflammatory agents that reduce swelling and inflammation, speeding up the healing of cold sores (3). Slice a fresh garlic clove, crush one half, and then hold it against the affected area until the stinging goes away. If you want to reap maximum benefits, be sure to repeat the process 3 to 5 times a day.
3. Aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel contains enzymes, antioxidants, minerals and fatty acids that help treat skin conditions like cold sores and prevent further infections (4). Take a clean container and pour a small amount of aloe vera gel into it. With a fresh cotton swab, apply the gel directly on the sores. Use the gel throughout the day to speed up the healing process and ease discomfort.
4. Peppermint oil
This is without a doubt another really popular remedy to help get rid of cold sores. Peppermint oil has powerful antiviral properties that make it exhibit high levels of virucidal activity against the blisters, giving you a soothing feeling (5).
5. Used tea bags
This is also another fast herbal remedy to draw out infections from cold sores. Some people say that applying a warm, used tea bag onto the affected skin can help ease discomfort and speed up the healing.
6. Oregano oil
Oregano oil is powerfully antimicrobial, and applying a couple of drops on the blisters can help reduce swelling and promote faster healing by killing the virus (6). To prevent the spread of the virus or re-infection, it’s important that you properly dispose of the applicator after use.
7. Hydrogen peroxide
Studies have shown that hydrogen peroxide may have the ability to disinfect and dry up cold sores (7). Some people say to pour 3% hydrogen peroxide solution into a small bowl, dip a clean cotton swab or cotton ball in the solution, and apply it to the blisters. Leave it on until it stops stinging. Do this as necessary to dry up the blisters. If you have any concerns about trying this tip, please consult your GP. Always make sure to clean all surfaces and wash your hands after using chemicals at home.
Things you can do yourself to speed up healing of cold sores
When you have a cold sore, there are some things you can try to help yourself speed up the healing process, including:
• eating cold foods
• using an antiseptic mouthwash if it hurts to brush your teeth
• protecting your mouth by applying sunscreen every day
• drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
• washing your hands with soap and water before and after applying any cream
What to avoid and what not to do when you have a cold sore
• don't eat any acidic or salty foods
• don't touch your cold sore unless you're applying some cream – dab it instead of rubbing it
• don't kiss anyone, especially babies as this could be dangerous to them
• don't have any form of oral sex until your cold sore completely heals as this could cause genital herpes
• don't share creams, cutlery, straws or makeup when you have a cold sore with anyone
Cold sores in children
If your child has a painful cold sore and giving them cold foods or trying some of the above home remedies doesn't seem to work, seek the advice of your GP or Pediatrician if your child:
• has another health condition that has weakened the immune system, which could allow the HSV infection to spread and cause problems in other parts of the body
• has sores that don't heal by themselves within 7 to 10 days
• has any sores near the eyes or gets them often
Herpes in babies
Neonatal herpes is a herpes infection in a newborn baby. It's also caused by the herpes simplex virus that affects adults. A newborn baby can catch herpes if the mother of the child breastfeeds with herpes sores on her breasts. If you are a breastfeeding mother and have had cold sores in the past or are worried about neonatal herpes, watch out for signs like:
• your baby isn't feeding
• your baby has a fever
• your baby has a rash on the skin
• your baby has a sore near the eyes or inside the mouth
Always seek medical attention as soon as possible if you are worried about anything in regards to your baby or child's health.
If you rarely feel the symptoms of cold sores but are bothered when they pop up, these simple home treatments may be enough to ease the pain and discomfort as well as speed up the healing process. However, if you contract regular cold sores, develop a fever, have itchy eyes or notice skin breaks, seek medical attention – you may need prescription medication to deal with the cold sores.
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1. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2602638/
2. Herpes Viruses Association: https://herpes.org.uk/dr-george-kinghorns-talk-herpes-simplex/
3. National Institute of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931201/
4. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763764/
5. National Institute of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13678235
6. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23484421
7. National Institute of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3486305/