Approximately 90% of adults carry the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores. Some continue as carriers, never developing visible sores, while others experience regular flare-ups. Cold sores, usually develop as blisters beneath the skin before breaking, seeping, and crusting over for a week to ten days. While a wide range of pharmacy products are available for treating cold sores, some home remedies could help control or shorten the duration of a flare-up.
Several small studies cite lemon balm as a useful natural remedy for cold sores due to its ability to block the herpes virus from entering cells. The essential oil may be able to minimize a flare-up when applied to an emerging cold sore or even speed the healing process. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits. Additionally, lemon balm may provide relief from the discomfort. It is best applied diluted in a carrier oil such as coconut or olive oil, a few times a day.
Stress is one of the best-known environmental triggers of cold sores, and studies and anecdotal evidence support the positive effect of keeping stress in check on flare-ups. Excessive sun exposure can also prompt cold sores, which is yet another reason to use sunscreen. A lowered immune system can also cause them, as can skin-to-skin contact with a person currently in the grip of a flare-up. The risk of catching the virus from another person is highest when they have blisters that are oozing, although they can spread the virus even when blisters aren't visible.
This "home remedy" should be fairly obvious, but it is worth mentioning. Cold sores are created by a virus, and touching them — especially if they are in the oozing or crusting stage — can not only irritate the area, making it redder and slower to heal but also spread the virus. Herpes can develop on many different parts of the body, so a strict hands-off policy is essential when dealing with a cold sore flare-up.
Cooling relief is underrated as a quick and effective treatment for a wide range of symptoms. Ice reduces swelling and inflammation, and it can help ease the symptoms temporarily. Experts recommend applying ice to impending cold sores two to three times a day. Do not place ice directly on the lip, though, as this can burn the skin. Instead, use a bag or cloth, and always make sure whatever is placed on the lip is clean, to avoid introducing more infections.
One factor that can prolong a cold sore flare-up is a reintroduction of the virus. This can happen from touching the lips and also brushing the teeth. For the duration of the cold sore's stay, consider purchasing a pack of toothbrushes and changing them every day or every few days. Most importantly, be sure to discard the old toothbrush once the flare-up has passed. Research shows the virus can survive on a toothbrush for several days.
A U.S. study from 2000 suggests the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of resveratrol, a compound in red wine, could slow the replication of the herpes virus that causes cold sores. While drinking red wine could provide some of these benefits, the intended home remedy is to gently dab the beverage on the sore. Keep in mind, the research showing this benefit was carried out in a laboratory, not on human beings. It's not clear whether red wine speeds up the healing of cold sores in humans.
Lavender oil has long been used to treat bruises and other issues such as topical irritation. Although there's no evidence that lavender oil stops the replication of the virus or speeds up healing, it may reduce the pain due to its anti-inflammatory effects. When applying essential oils, always mix the extremely concentrated oil with a carrier, such as coconut or olive oil.
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L-lysine is an amino acid the body must absorb through foods or supplements, as it cannot make it internally. Some studies suggest the compound can help slow the replication of the herpes virus. Therefore, it could serve as a preventative measure and also reduce the length of a cold sore flare-up. Many supplements are available that contain either pure l-lysine or a combination of essential nutrients that could speed healing. Check with your doctor before taking supplements, especially if you're on medications.
Licorice possesses both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. While licorice tea could help to a small degree, creating a paste using a tablespoon or so of pure licorice mixed with petroleum jelly or another base will likely have a more potent effect. Apply the paste before going to bed at night. Do not take licorice root orally as it can cause blood pressure elevations and fluid retention. Limited research suggests that glycyrrhizic acid in licorice can kill cells infected with the herpes virus. Due to lack of sufficient research, this is still considered more of a folk remedy than a treatment supported by science.
Many people who develop cold sores are able to tell when the flare-up is coming on. Their lips may tingle or itch before any visible signs appear. At this early stage, a poultice made using Earl Grey tea could ease the intensity of the coming sore. Steep a tea bag in water and let it cool, then apply it to the tingling site for ten minutes, three or four times a day.
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