Uh-oh. All of that shopping and cooking for the holiday season has got you stressed out, and now there’s a red, painful blister making itself at home on your lip. Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1. The virus, which is most often picked up during childhood, usually lies dormant, waiting for the body to be weakened by stress or illness.
Cold sores are often confused with canker sores, but they do not affect the same areas. Cold sores generally form around the mouth or nose, though they can appear – less frequently – on the gums or roof of the mouth. Canker sores, which are caused by bacterial infections, usually form on the inner cheeks or tongue. Canker sores also look different from cold sores. They appear as small, round, white areas surrounded by a red halo. It’s important to know the difference, because cold sores are highly contagious, while canker sores are not.
It is estimated that 80% of Americans have been exposed to the virus that causes cold sores, though many those who are infected never develop cold sores, because their immune systems are able to completely suppress outbreaks.
While there is no cure for the virus that causes cold sores, the sores themselves generally clear up on their own within a week or two. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to reduce the pain and prevent further outbreaks:
– Echinacea can help fight the virus and boost the immune system.
– Exercise will strengthen your immune system, promoting healing, and reduce stress to help prevent further outbreaks.
– Ice can help to numb the pain and reduce the inflammation of a cold sore. Apply a cold compress to the area during the earliest stage of cold sore development, usually marked by a tingling sensation.
– Lysine, an essential amino acid found in many foods we regularly eat, can help to contain the spread of cold sores. You can increase your Lysine intake by taking a Lysine supplement — 1,000 mg, three times a day — or applying a Lysine ointment to the site of the outbreak. The benefits of Lysine are offset by arginine, another amino acid found in foods like chocolate, peanuts, almonds, grain cereals, peas, gelatin, and beer. For best results, avoid these foods for the duration of your outbreak.
– Lemon balm, applied to the site of a cold sore has been shown to cut recovery time in half in some people, and can also help to prevent future outbreaks.
– Peppermint oil, applied to the site of the sore, will help to fight off the virus. External use only.
– Vitamin B deficiency has been linked with cold sore outbreaks. There are actually eight distinct vitamins in the B family — thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid, and cobalamin — which are responsible for promoting a strong immune system and healthy cell growth. Take a B-Complex supplement at least once daily.
– Witch hazel can help to dry out the sore, which will allow it to heal faster and prevent oozing.
– Zinccan bind with the virus to promote healing and prevent the sore from spreading. Apply a water-based zinc solution several times a day.
– Use a petroleum-based ointment or lip balm to keep the infected area moist. This can help to contain the infection, protect it from sun and wind, and keep the area soft to prevent cracking.
– Don’t touch, rub, or scratch cold sores, as this can spread the infection to yourself and others. If you must touch the sore, be sure to wash your hands immediately. Keep the area clean with gentle soap and warm water.
– Avoid salty or acidic foods, which can irritate cold sores.