Today’s post covers a subject that I’ve received a lot of questions about over the years: cold sores. The cause and treatment of cold sores is a topic that many people don’t understand completely. In fact, when we started planning to write this blog post, no one on the OGT Team could seem to agree on what a cold sore actually was or what caused it! That just goes to show that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about cold sores, so I thought it would be a good idea to begin by going over some basic facts. :-)
What Is A Cold Sore?
A cold sore is a red blister on the outside of the mouth, usually located along the edge of the lips. The blister may break, ooze, or form a crust. Cold sores are considered very contagious until they heal completely, which can take between ten days and two weeks.
Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is different than the one that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). HSV-1 is both really common and really contagious. It’s estimated that about 2/3 of the world’s population has HSV-1 (though not everyone who has it will experience symptoms like cold sores.) HSV-1 is usually spread by the mouth, through things like kissing, sharing drinks, sharing utensils, etc.
4 Ways To Treat A Cold Sore
The most important thing to remember about treating cold sores is that time is of the essence! The quicker you can start treating a cold sore, the better off you’ll be. Most people experience a burning or itching feeling around their mouth up to a day or two before a cold sore appears. If you start treating it as soon as you feel that itchy feeling, you may be able to minimize the size, appearance, and duration of the cold sore.
1. Eat Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are “good” bacteria that can help boost your immune system and fight off viruses and infections. Eating or drinking probiotic foods like yogurt, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, or kombucha can help give your immune system the support it needs to heal a cold sore fast.
2. Use Ice
Applying ice to a cold sore can help reduce redness and inflammation. Make a simple cold compress by soaking a clean cloth in ice water. Apply it to the cold sore for 5-10 minutes, re-wetting the cloth when it no longer feels cold. Repeat this a few times a day as needed. (And don’t forget to wash the cloth afterwards—remember, cold sores are contagious!)
3. Apply Honey
Honey has antimicrobial properties that can help fight a cold sore and speed up the healing process. A 2004 study found that applying honey to genital herpes lesions improved healing and healing speed by around 50% compared to applying acyclovir, a common ingredient in prescription herpes treatments. Be sure to use raw, unfiltered honey, and dab a small amount on the cold sore a few times a day.
4. Use Essential Oils
Certain essential oils can be used to help treat cold sores. A 2003 study found that peppermint oil had antiviral effects against both HSV-1 and HSV-2. Additionally, tea tree oil has been found to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal effects, and has been suggested as a treatment for a variety of skin conditions. Researchers also believe that tea tree oil can speed the healing process of certain wounds. And finally, another oil that can be useful against cold sores is lavender oil. It hasn’t been shown to be effective against herpes specifically, but it does have wonderfully soothing effects that can help reduce pain and itching from a cold sore.
By combining the effects of honey and the three essential oils mentioned above, you can make a powerful cold sore treatment that can help heal a cold sore fast AND provide pain and itch relief. Here’s how to make it!
Essential Oil Treatment For Cold Sores
- 1/2 cup raw honey
- 10 drops peppermint essential oil
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
- 15 drops lavender essential oil
Directions and Use:
Combine all ingredients in a small glass jar. Dab the mixture onto a cold sore (or emerging cold sore) twice a day. Let it sit on the cold sore as long as you can, or at least several minutes.
What To Do After A Cold Sore
Even once a cold sore has healed, there are still a few things you’ll want to do to prevent the virus from spreading:
- Replace Your Toothbrush. Your toothbrush has definitely been exposed to the virus, make sure to dispose of it and replace it with a new one.
- Change Your Pillowcase. Replace your pillowcase with a clean one, and wash the other one with hot water.
Tips For Preventing Cold Sores
If you have HSV-1, there are a few different things that can trigger a cold sore. One trigger is sunlight, so make sure to use a chapstick that provides SPF protection. Stress can be another trigger, which is probably trickier to avoid than excessive sun exposure! But you can manage your stress levels by exercising regularly, meditating, doing yoga, or whatever calming activity you prefer.