Remedies for Cold Sores

The cooler, winter weather can cause our skin and lips to become dry, making them much more vulnerable to the cold sore causing virus known as the herpes simplex virus — a virus that as many as 90% of adults carry without even knowing it, as it often remains dormant.

Cold sores can appear anywhere on the body, such as the nose, cheeks and fingers, though they most commonly affect the outside of the mouth and lips. First appearing as a blister, they may also slightly ooze. You may also notice that the cold sore will have a yellow crust or scab-like appearance. This will eventually fall off and reveal new skin. In the meantime, while cold sores aren’t considered to be life-threatening, until they heal they can actually be quite painful. Symptoms include redness, burning, itching, swelling, and even flu-like symptoms such as a fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes.

As mentioned, cold sores occur as a result of coming into contact with the herpes simplex virus. The way you develop a cold sore is by coming into contact with someone who has had the virus. For example, if you kiss someone who’s infected or share utensils with an infected individual. You can also contract the virus as a result of sharing towels and razors. There are also certain things that can trigger a cold sore outbreak or make your symptoms worse, such as eating certain foods (spicy foods, in particular), if you’ve recently had or have a cold, suffer from allergies, being exposed to sun and wind, are under a lot of stress, or are going through hormonal changes (such as menstruation.) To prevent the disease from spreading, you should not kiss anyone (or allow anyone to kiss you) who is infected, should not share things like glasses, forks, knives or spoons, and should also avoid oral sex as the virus can also be spread through sexual contact.

There is no cure for cold sores, and in most cases they will go away on their own after one or two weeks without resulting in complications or leaving any kind of scarring. However, there are certain home remedies and other things that you can try in order to find temporary relief and to help speed up the healing process.

The first thing you can try to numb the pain is to apply ice or a cold compress to the sore. In the event that you find your cold sore is stinging quite a bit, an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, can also be helpful. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe you a mild anesthetic gel to help relieve the pain. In some cases, you may also need to be prescribed an anti-viral medication to increase the healing and to prevent them from recurring. Common antiviral medications prescribed for cold sores include Valtrex, Zovirax and Famvir — though they are usually only most effective when taken during the first 48 hours of the cold sore outbreak. It’s also recommended that you keep the cold sore and surrounding area clean by washing it gently, as doing this will prevent it from turning into a bacterial infection.

To further prevent cold sores from developing or spreading, make sure you wash your hands after touching them, avoid rubbing your eyes (as this could result in something known as ocular herpes if left untreated), as well as replace things like your toothbrush, lip balms and lipsticks.

Originally published at on January 4, 2019.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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