How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore | Causes and Treatment | The Old Farmer's Almanac

How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore


Cold Sore Causes and Treatment

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Cold sores can be a real pain in the… lip. Learn what causes cold sores and get a few cold sore treatments to help you get rid of them as quickly as possible!

What are Cold Sores?

First of all, if you have a cold sore, you are not alone. Cold sores are VERY common.

In 2015, the World Health Organization published research estimating that two-thirds of people under age 50—approximately 3.7 billion of us—are infected with something called “herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV–1).”

In other words: If you’ve got a cold sore, you have HSV-1, but the rest of us probably have HSV-1, too!

Don’t worry. It’s not what you think when you hear the word, “herpes.” The “HSV-1” is the virus that causes cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters. (The closely related herpes simplex–2 [HSV–2] is the main cause of genital herpes, not HSV-1.)

Symptoms of Cold Sores

Do you know the symptoms of a cold sore? An outbreak usually begins with a tingle, pinch, or itch on the lip, the edge of the mouth, or around the nose.

The site soon erupts with small, somewhat painful blisters that are about as unattractive as a blemish. Typically, the sores weep a bit, then dry up before disappearing within a couple of weeks. (In very rare instances, HSV-1 can infect the eye, which requires immediate medical attention.)

Photo Credit: Harvard Health Publications/Harvard University

By the way, don’t confuse a cold sore with canker sores or angular cheilitis, a painful crack at the corner of the mouth. Both of those are non-contagious. Find out about canker sore treatment.

Cold sores are not only common, but also highly contagious.

What Causes Cold Sores?

People usually contract HSV–1 through small cuts in their skin as a result of contact with the cold sore fluid of an infected person—such as by kissing or sharing personal items (e.g., towels, razors, makeup, eating utensils, toothbrush), even shaking hands. However, it can also be acquired when the carrier has no symptoms.

Some people suffer recurrent infections: After the initial manifestation, the virus lies latent in nerves and may re-emerge in times of stress or in response to, for example, dental surgery, hormonal changes, medications, and even allergies.

How to Avoid Getting or Spreading Cold Sores

  • Avoid direct skin contact (including sexual) with people who have visible blisters. 
  • Don’t shake hands, either.
  • Don’t share eating utensils, toothbrushes, towels, makeup (ever).
  • Wash your hands often, especially before touching a baby, a frail elder, or a sick person.
  • Wash your hands carefully (always) before handling food, dinnerware, or serving utensils.  
  • To prevent spreading the virus to another part of your body, wash thoroughly if your hands have come in contact with your cold sore.

Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Getting Rid of Cold Sores: Home Remedies

There is no cure for cold sores, at least not one that medical research has discovered.

However, a host of medicine for cold sores and natural remedies for cold sores may alleviate symptoms and also shorten the duration of an outbreak or lessen recurrences of the virus.

Here are a few:

  • Monolaurin, long an ingredient in foods and body-care products, is a natural constituent of coconut oil and so deemed safe. As a supplement, it can be helpful for preventing frequent outbreaks; work with your physician to develop the proper dosing strategy and monitor your progress while you take it.
  • Stress reduction/management such as regular exercise, getting out into natural settings, and meditation may help keep cold sores at bay.
  • An ice pack applied directly to the lesions may lessen pain. Learn more about when to use ice packs for pain.
  • Zinc oxide ointment applied topically at the first sensations of an impending outbreak may shorten its duration and lessen the symptoms.
  • Salve or lip balm containing at least 1 percent lemon balm may provide symptomatic relief.
  • Sunscreen applied liberally to the face and around and on lips before going outside may help. (Sunlight seems to activate HSV-1 in some people.)
  • Research shows that topical application aloe vera gel may alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration of genital herpes lesions. Learn more about the uses of aloe vera.

Cold sores can be frustrating, but hopefully these natural cold sore remedies will help you to get rid of them. Do you have any trusty cold sore remedies? Let us know below!

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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