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Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Oral health fact sheet.”
How to Get Rid of Cold Sores
If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you know the signs. It starts with the tingling, then the edge of your lip or the corner of your mouth begins to burn. Then the outbreak: An ugly red sore appears. A few days later it breaks open and crusts over. Within 2-4 weeks, it should disappear.
Cold sores, or fever blisters, are caused by a virus and have no cure. When you feel one budding, you want to get rid of it, fast.
But you probably don’t need a doctor. There are things that you can do at home to soothe the pain and make cold sores look nicer as they heal — anything from using ice or aloe vera to using pain medication from your medicine cabinet.
How to Treat Cold Sores
There are many that you can do at home to soothe the sting of a cold sore, such as:
Ice. You can numb the pain if you apply a cold compress to the sore. Don’t put ice directly on your skin — that could damage it.
Pain relievers. When a cold sore really stings, you may get some relief from an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen.
Over-the-counter creams. There are products available at the drugstore that can help reduce the pain of a cold sore or help keep the skin soft while it heals.
Prescription drugs. Because cold sores are caused by a virus, doctors may suggest an antiviral medication to help you heal more quickly. The antiviral drugs used to treat cold sores include acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), famciclovir (Famvir), and penciclovir (Denavir).
Sunscreen. Getting a sunburn may trigger a cold sore. Using sunscreen when you’re out in the sun may prevent it.
Aloe vera gel. The same gel used for sunburn may help a cold sore to heal. Lab research has shown the gel may help fight viruses, including herpes simplex.
Lysine. This supplement may be used sometimes to treat cold sores. It comes in a cream or in capsule form.
Propolis. This is a resin-like material made by bees from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees. It may be used like an ointment to treat cold sores.
Lemon balm. Some research has shown that lemon balm extract can help cold sores get better, too.
Tea tree oil. Some research has shown that this strong-smelling oil helps a cold sore heal more quickly.
Peppermint oil. Research has found that peppermint oil is effective at fighting cold sores.
Kanuka honey. Medical-grade kanuka honey, which is produced by bees in New Zealand, is as effective as topical medication as a treatment for cold sores, according to a recent study published in BMJ Open.
Vitamin C and vitamin E. Both of these vitamins have been shown to fight cold sores. Studies have shown that vitamin C can inactivate the herpes simplex virus, the virus that causes cold sores. Other research has shown that vitamin E can help heal cold sores.
Stress reduction. Taking steps to lower your stress levels may help ward off cold sores. Try meditation or deep breathing exercises.
What Not to Do With Cold Sores
Certain habits or behaviors could trigger a cold-sore outbreak or make new cold sores appear elsewhere on your body.
Avoid triggers. This means that if you know a hot, sunny day at the beach or a lot of stress makes you break out in cold sores, try to stay out of those situations when you can. You may be able to stop it in its tracks, or at least keep it from getting worse.
Don’t touch. If you pick at your cold sore, you may spread the virus to another part of your body. That will just make your outbreak worse. Keep your hands away from your mouth, and wash your hands often, especially when you touch your face.
Don’t pop sores. The virus is most likely to spread after a cold sore appears and before it heals. Popping the sores may spread the virus to other parts of your body.
Don’t give or receive oral sex. When you have a cold sore, you can spread it to other parts of the body, including the genitals.
Causes of Cold Sores
Cold sores are caused by a common virus called herpes simplex. Most people get exposed to the virus when they’re babies or children. There’s no cure for it. Once you’ve been exposed to it, it’s always in your system, even if it doesn’t often cause cold sores or other symptoms.
Herpes simplex is spread by close contact. If you kiss someone with a cold sore, or you touch their face and then touch your own face, you can catch the virus. You can also get herpes simplex by sharing lip balm, a fork, a mug or a razor with someone who has it. You’re most likely to get the virus from someone who has an active cold sore, but it’s also possible to contract it from someone who doesn’t have a sore or blister showing.
The virus also can spread to the eyes or the genitals. For example, if you rub your eyes after getting saliva from an infected person on your hands, or if you receive oral sex from someone who has cold sores.
When you’re first exposed to the virus, you’re likely to get a cold sore. After a week or two, it’ll go away on its own. Then the virus goes dormant in your body. You may never have another cold sore outbreak again, but many people do.
Some things that make an outbreak more likely are:
- A cold or other illness
- A fever
- Too much sun
- Your period
American Academy of Dermatology: “Herpes simplex: Signs and symptoms,” “Herpes simplex: Who gets and causes,” “Herpes simplex: Diagnosis and treatment,” “Herpes simplex: Tips for managing.”
Rezazadeh, F. J Dent (Shiraz) , March 2016.
American Academy of Family Physicians: “Mouth Problems.”
Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Oral health fact sheet.”
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery: “Mouth Sores.”
Journal of Dentistry (Shiraz): Assessment of Anti HSV-1 Activity of Aloe Vera Gel Extract: an In Vitro Study.
Mayo Clinic: “Cold Sore: Symptoms & Causes,” “Diagnosis & Treatment.”
Alternative Medicine Review: “Natural Remedies for Herpes Simplex.”
Nature Public Health Emergency Collection: “Effectiveness of Herbal Products Against Herpes Infections.”
BMJ Open: “Kanuka Honey Versus Aciclovir for the Topical Treatment of Herpes Simplex Labialis: A Randomised Controlled Trial.”
ENThealth from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation: “Mouth Sores FAQs.”
Here’s How You Can Get Rid of a Cold Sore (Fast!)
More than half of people in the U.S. have been infected with the virus that causes cold sores. Between 20 and 40% of them will experience the joy that is a cold sore.
If you’re one of them, odds are you know this pattern: A tingling or burning sensation on your lip. A day later, an oozy, fluid-filled blister on your mouth, always at the most inopportune time.
Family medicine physician Sarah Pickering Beers, MD, shares her advice for dealing with this sore spot.
Cold sores: common and contagious
Cold sores are common and mostly harmless. They’re caused by the herpes simplex virus, which spreads easily from person to person.
In some lucky people, the virus might cause a cold sore once or twice and never rear its head again. But for other people, they come back again and again, sometimes several times a year. And that gets old real fast.
“They tend to go away on their own in 10 to 14 days,” says Dr. Beers. “But that doesn’t make them any less annoying.”
Cold sore remedies
Two weeks might as well be an eternity when you have an oozy, scabby sore smack dab in the middle of your face. Here’s what you can do to ease the discomfort and send that cold on its way.
- Oral antiviral medications: “The most efficient way to get rid of cold sores is with oral antiviral medications,” Dr. Beers says. A doctor can prescribe these medications, which reduce pain and help the sore clear faster. But you have to start taking them within the first day or so that the cold sore develops, or they don’t do much to help, Dr. Beers says. If you’re one of the unlucky people who tends to get cold sore after cold sore, your doctor might be able to prescribe a daily antiviral to keep them at bay, Dr. Beers adds.
- Antiviral cream: If you can’t make it to a doctor for a prescription, over-the-counter antiviral creams can help knock back a cold sore. “These are slightly less effective than oral antivirals, but they do reduce the pain and duration of the sore,” Dr. Beers says. But like oral medications, you have to start using the cream ASAP for it to work.
How to treat cold sore pain
DIY remedies aren’t likely to make a cold sore disappear any faster. But there are things you can do to ease the pain while you’re waiting impatiently for it to heal.
- Numb the pain: Over-the-counter pain reliever creams such as lidocaine and benzocaine can numb the burning and ease the discomfort. These are often marketed for dental pain, so look for them in the dental section of the drug store.
- Moisturize: Keep your lip and mouth area moisturized to prevent the sore from drying out and peeling, Dr. Beers says. But if you use lip balm on an active sore, consider it contaminated. “Once you’ve used it on a cold sore, you should throw it away after the sore is better,” Dr. Beers says.
- Cool it: Using a simple cold compress, like ice or a cold, wet rag, can help reduce pain and redness.
- Hands off: It can take all your self-control not to play with a cold sore, but try to resist the temptation. “It’s instinct to pick at it and scrape the peeling skin, but you should let it heal itself,” Dr. Beers says.
Meanwhile, you don’t want to inflict these sores on others. Skip the make-out sessions until you’ve healed and wash your hands often.
While cold sores are annoying in adults, the virus can be life-threatening in a baby, so take care to steer clear, Dr. Beers advises: “As much as you might want to see your niece or nephew or grandbaby, please don’t shower them with kisses if you have an active cold sore.”
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Can You Get Rid of A Cold Sore in 24 Hours? Here’s the Truth
If you could wave a magic wand to get rid of your cold sore in 24 hours, you would. Instead, you’re left suffering the painful and embarrassing effects of a cold sore outbreak as fluid-filled blisters develop on and around your lips.
Though there’s no permanent cure for cold sores, it’s possible to expedite the recovery process and leave your skin looking smooth and attractive once again.
The Short Answer is “No”- But Why Not?
You want to know how to get rid of a cold sore in 24 hours (or less!). Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Once cold sores develop, they proceed through five specific stages that take more than 24 hours to conclude:
- Tingling and itching
- Appearance of fluid-filled blisters
- Blisters ooze and form painful sores
- Sores dry and scab
- Cold sores heal as scabs fall off
This definitely isn’t an enjoyable process, but luckily you have many techniques at your fingertips to recover from an outbreak as quickly as possible.
Tips to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Faster
What can you do to get rid of a cold sore faster than the expected seven to ten days? Try these techniques and strategies to limit the amount of time you spend feeling uncomfortable and humiliated by your cold sore blisters.
Don’t accept defeat! There are many different steps you can take to fight your cold sore and reduce its impact on your day-to-day routine. Consider the following options to shorten the life span of each cold sore outbreak and feel better soon.
Make a Cold Compress
Cold compresses are among some of the simplest natural treatments for the herpes simplex virus. The idea of a compress might sound “old fashioned”, but research shows that topical therapy can effectively alleviate symptoms of genital herpes outbreaks and even contribute to the prevention of outbreaks when used promptly.
Here are a few commonly utilized natural compress ideas to get you started:
- – Cold compress using an ice pack or soft washcloth filled with ice
- – Baking soda paste
- – Cornstarch paste
- – Crushed garlic cloves mixed with olive oil
Use Ibuprofen to Reduce Pain and Swelling
This is an easy remedy that you probably already have in the medicine cabinet. Most of the pain and discomfort caused by cold sores originations from underlying inflammation. NSAID medications like ibuprofen temporarily reduce inflammation so that you can feel better in less than 24 hours, even if that stubborn cold sore hasn’t disappeared quite yet.
Avoid These Foods
The same foods that threaten your overall health also compromise your body’s ability to fight the herpes virus and reduce the impacts of each outbreak. Avoid the following to ensure your body remains in prime fighting condition.
Heavily processed foods. Processed foods, which are normally found on the interior aisles of the grocery store, are loaded with synthetic ingredients. In many cases, the food’s existing nutrients are stripped away in the preservation process.
Freezer meals and refined grains, for example, contain synthetic and processed ingredients that trigger oxidative stress. It’s important to keep your body’s oxidative stress low to promote healing during herpes outbreaks, so eating heavily processed foods creates an uphill battle to recovery.
Added sugar. The added sugar found in treats, desserts, and refined foods stunts your body’s natural healing abilities. Extra sugar is also converted into acid, which attacks your body and exacerbates herpes outbreak symptoms.
Don’t Pick Your Cold Sore
Just like you can’t pick at the chickenpox, you shouldn’t pick at your cold sore! Every time you touch a cold sore, you risk spreading the herpes simplex virus to other parts of your body or other people you contact.
Picking at your cold sore also increases the risk of infection and scars. If you’re tempted to touch your blister, find a cotton swab, and apply an ointment or medication for relief instead.
What Are the Strongest Over the Counter Options for Cold Sores?
There are many over-the-counter options available for cold sore relief. Abreva® and Orajel™ are the two strongest OTC options.
Orajel™ provides instant and targeted pain relief in and around the mouth. For herpes simplex cold sores, the Orajel™ Cold Sore formula includes six active ingredients shown to treat the pain, itching, and dryness caused by cold sores. It can be applied up to four times a day to help you stay comfortable through an outbreak.
Abreva® is also an over-the-counter cream used to treat cold sores and fever blisters, but it works differently. Abreva® contains the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to accelerate the cold sore healing process. This OTC treatment can be used up to five times a day, or as directed by your doctor.
What Are the Strongest Prescription Options?
Acyclovir is an antiviral prescription medication available in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. It’s used to decrease the pain and increase the healing time of sores and blisters caused by chickenpox, shingles, genital herpes, and cold sores. This antiviral medication stops the spread of the herpes virus in the body, which in turn helps outbreaks heal.
Acyclovir should be taken two to five times a day for five to ten days, depending on the extent of your outbreak.
What Preventative Measures Can Stop Cold Sores?
What’s even better than getting rid of a cold sore quickly? Never having a cold sore at all! These preventative measures can help prevent cold sores from forming by eliminating known cold sore triggers and keeping the herpes simplex virus dormant.
Choose the Right Foods and Supplements
Certain foods and supplements are shown in clinical and anecdotal research to prevent herpes outbreaks. Try incorporating these options into your daily routine to help your body fight cold sores before they begin:
- – Lean protein (eggs, chicken, almonds)
- – Omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, chia seeds, mackerel)
- – Zinc (chick peaks, pork, lamb)
- – Lysine supplement
- – Probiotics
- – Vitamin B complex
Improve Your Sleeping Habits
Sleep is one of your most valuable defenses against disease. Rest doesn’t just refresh your mind, it recharges your immune system as well. Stop fatigue from zapping your immune system and making you vulnerable to cold sore outbreaks with these tips:
- – Create a soothing sleep environment
- – Reduce technology and blue light before bedtime
- – Develop a consistent evening routine to wind down
- – Get regular exercise during the day
Use Luminance RED
Luminance RED is a breakthrough cold sore treatment that harnesses powerful LED light technology to shorten healing time and decrease the frequency of new outbreaks.
This FDA registered device nourishes the skin with a 660 nanometer light wavelength, which is metabolized to accelerate the body’s healing process and strengthen its defenses against future attacks. Regular use of Luminance RED not only helps shorten the healing time of active outbreaks, it can also help prevent future outbreaks altogether!
The Luminance RED device is easy to use to reduce the effects of cold sore outbreaks. It is designed to be held about one centimeter from the area being treated for a 60 second session. It should be applied at least once a day, but up to three times a day, for maximum efficiency.
Thanks to the precise design of Luminance RED, every treatment provides the exact wavelength and irradiance of light necessary to maximize treatment efficiency and prevent cold sore outbreaks.
In fact, clinical research shows that patients who received treatment had a 49% reduction in time to heal compared to those who had no light treatment. Those are the results you want!