What are cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1 (not the same as genital herpes, which are caused by herpes simplex type 2 or HSV-2.). They are also known simply as the cold sore virus.
The first symptom is usually a sensation of itching or tingling around the mouth, followed by painful blisters mainly on or around the lips.
A person’s initial contact with the virus is often during childhood and after one gets the virus, it tends to remain in the body for the rest of one’s life, existing in a dormant state.
What causes a cold sore outbreak?
The cold sore virus can lay dormant for years and years before something triggers it and causes the virus to wake up. Certain situations, commonly known as ‘trigger factors’ can cause the virus to reactivate in the body and cause an outbreak of painful sores on the lips.
An example of a trigger factor would be stress, lack of sleep, a poor diet or when the body is fighting off a virus such as a cold or flu. When the immune system is weakened, this is the prime opportunity for an outbreak.
Some people will never experience an outbreak, but for others, these outbreaks can occur more regularly. Cold sore outbreaks typically last between 5 and 21 days and can be a great source of misery for people as they are both painful and embarrassing and tend to linger for a long time.
What’s also annoying is that they have a maddening habit of appearing at the most inconvenient times – before a job interview, a party, a holiday or wedding!
If your immune system tends to be weak, or you commonly experience cold sore triggers, you may find yourself being more prone to recurring cold sore outbreaks.
After 5-21 days and the cold sores have healed, the virus becomes dormant again. That is until another trigger is met and then it all starts again and the cold sore recurs. *groan*
But rest assured, I am here to help. That’s why I’ve put together this blog 14 Ways to Prevent and Treat Cold Sores Naturally.
No. 1 – Catch your cold sore early!
The best way to get rid of a cold sore quickly is to catch it as early as possible. When you start feeling that tingling or itching sensation on your lip, this is the ideal time to start taking action. Not in an hour, not later that day. NOW.
If you’re reading this and the tingly stage has long passed and your cold sore has already broken out, don’t fret, the following tips will still be useful in helping it to heal faster, reduce any pain and protect it from further infection.
No. 2 – Support your immune system
Since cold sores are a virus, the health of your immune system plays a huge role in preventing the arrival of any cold sores, as well as helping your body heal should you be on the receiving end of them.
As always, ensuring your diet is chocka-block full of leafy greens, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and plenty of hydration is vital to a happy and healthy immune system and to help fight off infection.
Eating an abundance of immune boosting and supportive vitamins and minerals like vitamin B complexes, A, C, E, zinc and vitamin Dthrough diet and supplementation is an important part in preventing cold sore outbreaks.
And don’t forget my favourite thing – fermented foods! Probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, water/milk kefir, kombucha and yoghurt are all wonderful supporters of the immune system. This is where roughly 80 percent of your immune system resides, after all.
No. 3 – Up your Vitamin C & E
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a potent immune-booster and antiviral so taking extra vitamin C when you have a cold sore can help support your immune system to fight the virus. You can find it in foods like citrus, green leafy greens like kale, kiwi, red peppers, berries, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
Vitamin E is great for the skin, and when applied topically it has been found to help soothe the irritation and discomfort of the cold sore and even help to prevent scarring.
Vitamin E rich foods include nuts (esp. almonds and hazelnuts), seeds, leafy green vegetables, wheat germ oil, avocado, sweet potato, butternut squash and broccoli.
No. 4 – Reduce your L-Arginine Intake
Arginine is an amino acid that is thought to trigger the onset of cold sores, so if you are prone to getting cold sores, it may be worth reducing the foods that are rich in this amino acid.
Arginine-rich foods include many nuts and seeds, chocolate, beer, cola, peanuts, raisins, wheat, oats and carob.
Of course, as many of these foods are actually very healthy, I wouldn’t recommend cutting them out entirely, but simply trying to reduce your intake of these foods whilst simultaneously increasing your intake Lysine rich foods will help keep your L-arginine levels in the safe zone.
No. 5 – Increase your L-lysine Intake
Have you ever noticed that the majority of cold sore products contain lysine?
That’s because lysine is an amino acid that counteracts arginine, a substance in various foods that as mentioned previously, appears to trigger cold sores in many people. L-lysine has become a popular treatment for cold sores as it is thought to help prevent them.
Since the body cannot produce it on its own it must be consumed via the diet or through supplementation. Try adding more lysine-rich foods like tempeh, quinoa, apricots, avocados, pears, eggs, fish and dairy into your diet.
Additionally taking an L-lysine supplement like Solgar L-lysine is a good way to offset the arginine found in the healthy foods you’re eating, also meaning you don’t have to give up on nuts, seeds and oats altogether.
No. 6 – Manage your Stress
There’s a reason cold sores seem to appear at the worst possible moment: stress. It’s the most common trigger for cold sore outbreaks as stress weakens your immune system and your ability to resist disease. This allows the pesky herpes virus to reactivate and give it an opportunity to make a comeback.
So what can you do about it?
Try to cultivate a self-care practice that includes time to wind down, to reflect and above all, relax.
Consistency is key. A once off yoga session will not do the trick. Take up a consistent yoga or meditation practice. If that’s not up your street, find another way to unwind; hiking in nature, regular massage, bathing in an Epsom salt bath with lavender oil, reading, or painting. Whatever it is, do it, and do it regularly.
If you need a little help, try to include adaptogens in your diet. Some herbs to think about introducing include Ashwagandha (see my previous blog post here on adaptogens and Ashwagandha), Maca and Holy basil (tulsi).
No. 7 – Get enough sleep
Sleep is enormously important to our health. Not only is it vital for energy levels, happiness and weight; but our immune systems rely heavily on it.
Sleep is not just some luxury – it’s a necessity. Poor sleeping habits can cause all matter of chaos in the body, and a lowered immune system is just one of them.
Put down the smartphone, turn off the TV and find yourself a relaxing bedtime routine that you enjoy and can stick to. See my previous blog here for tips on getting better sleep.
No. 8 – Hands off
It may sound obvious, but we all know how hard it is to avoid picking or scratching at a spot or cold sore. But I’ll repeat it anyway, don’t touch it!
Even resist touching the sore just to see if it has miraculously disappeared or shrunk since the last time you touched it. All of those pokes and prods can cause a bacterial infection which can cause it to take longer to heal.
If you have to touch it to apply cream or remedies (though ideally, any creams or remedies should be applied using a cotton bud where possible), make sure to wash your hands before and immediately after.
No. 9 – Protect your lips
Here’s another trigger alert: weather!
One of the biggest triggers for cold sores is either cold, harsh weather or too much sun exposure. Too much of either can cause a flare up for someone who has an underlying viral infection that’s ready to be triggered.
Use a natural, non-toxic nourishing lip balm to keep your lips hydrated and protected like Aloe Dent’s, and try adding a lip balm with SPF lipbalm like Moogoo during the warmer months.
No. 10 – Manuka Honey
You may just think honey is only good on toast or taken for a sore throat, but that is not the case. Manuka honey is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes which help to protect the body from bacteria and boost the immune system.
On top of that, honey is full of powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antibiotic, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, plus healing qualities. All of these are intensified in Manuka honey, making it the ideal solution to help prevent and tackle cold sores. Manuka honey even naturally contains disinfecting properties from hydrogen peroxide for even further benefits.
If you’re experiencing a cold sore outbreak, try applying Manuka honey to the cold sore to provide a protective layer that stops bacteria from entering and worsening it. A heads up, though it might sting a bit at first, know that it will help to reduce the pain in the long run. This is because it stops the sore from drying out and cracking.
No. 11 – Propolis
On the topic of bees, here’s another saviour. Propolis is a thick, sticky resin that’s created from an amalgamation of bees’ saliva, beeswax and plant sap. It’s well known for treating cold sores and supporting the immune system. It can be used at the onset of the tingly state, and even if you miss this time slot, it will still help to fight the infection. We stock Bio Propolis Cold Sore Care from A.Vogel which is specifically designed to help out in a cold sore crisis.
No. 12 – Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil has the natural ability to kill off the herpes virus when it’s been activated.
Thanks to its antimicrobial and antiviral properties, peppermint oil has been used as a topical treatment for cold sores for a long time. It’s also been found to heal the sore faster, especially when applied at the very first sign of one.
Direct contact with the oil, rather than drinking it or taking a capsule is the better option, and ideally, you should only treat a cold sore with an essential oil during the tingle stage or the scab stage (for pain-free treatment).
Simply add a drop or two of peppermint oil to a cotton swab/bud and gently place on the sore. Only a slight dab is necessary, and certainly, don’t rub it.
If you are applying the oil to a scab, be very careful not to disturb or knock the scab as even the teensiest bit of heavy-handedness could result in unwanted peeling.
Repeat this process a couple of times throughout the day until no longer needed.
No. 13 – Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antiseptic, antiviral and antifungal properties, making it ideal for keeping your cold sore clean in addition to speeding up the healing process. Simply dilute a drop or two with some coconut or olive oil and apply to the sore using a cotton bud.
No. 14 – Aloe vera
Aloe vera gel is a great go-to plant to have on hand as it’s very helpful in treating skin conditions like cold sores. Not only can aloe vera gel provide fast relief from the pain of a cold sore once it blisters, but it can even help with the healing process and fight off bacteria, helping to prevent further infection.
Use aloe vera gel directly on a cold sore and leave on. Do this again throughout the day to ease any discomfort and help speed the healing process.
If you don’t have a plant at hand, grab yourself an Aloe vera gel.
One point to leave you on…
I must point out, however; there is no true or permanent treatment to cure or remove the herpes virus from the body or the cold sores. The good news is that there are natural and preventative measures you can take that decrease the frequency of outbreaks, the severity, and the length of time they last, and ways that may ease your discomfort, and help diminish their appearance.
Just because there is no cure, doesn’t mean you should be left with painful crusty slow-healing sores now does it?!
And if you know your personal triggers, you may even be able to avoid another outbreak *fingers crossed*.
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication