Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that typically appear beneath the surface of the skin around the mouth and the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex type 1 virus, which is reportedly present in about 90 percent of people all over the world. These blisters go through five stages: tingling and itching, the appearance of the blisters themselves, the bursting, oozing, and formation of sores, the drying out and scabbing over of sores, and the healing of the sores.
Cold sores usually run for two weeks, but they may not manifest until after 20 days since the patient’s contraction of the virus. They are also characterized by a couple of symptoms, such as fever and swollen lymph nodes. Cold sores usually go away on their own but in extreme cases, they may lead to complications – one of the worst of which is potential encephalitis.
At present, no treatment exists, but there are a variety of products and remedies that can hasten healing, and for good reasons. Untreated cold sores may lead to permanent loss of vision, over time.
The following are ten of the most effective remedies for cold sores. These are a mix of both over-the-counter medication, as well as home remedies, to offer a flexible set of selections, according to individual preferences.
Vivicin Natural Cold Sore Treatment
Recommended by dermatologists, Vivicin’s Natural Cold Sore Treatment tube features a clinically-proven and tested formula that harnesses only the best of Nature to provide fast and efficient relief from cold sores. Its list of ingredients boasts of soothing botanicals such as avocado, olive oil, argan, baptisian, and arnica, which all combine to heal cold sores while also providing moisturization. It is best applied at the first sign of a cold sore, such as tingling, itching, redness, or the formation of a bump.
- Provides effective relief from cold sores in as short as 24 hours
- Has mostly positive reviews; in fact, only 5% of published reviews are reportedly negative
- Contains no chemicals and allergens such as petrolatum, DEA, gluten, and parabens
- Some users reported that the balm took longer than 24 hours to heal cold sores
Abreva Docosanol 10% Cream
Among the few available remedies for cold sores that have secured approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, Abreva contains 10% Docosanol, an active ingredient that many studies say is effective at treating cold sores. It is also available in various forms, one for use at home, and the other to be used on-the-go. It promises to provide relief in two and a half days. It should be used at the first sign of a cold sore infection, like Vivicin, and well before a blister forms.
- Heals cold sores faster than the median healing time, which is 4.1 days
- Can be applied up to five times a day, since it is not as irritating to the skin as other products
- Purports to be the only OTC cream that has FDA approval
- Method of application may come with the risk of spreading the virus
- Not effective for cold sores that are near the inside the mouth
Lemon Balm Cold Sore & Shingles Salve
An herbal product by Urban ReLeaf, this lemon balm oil salve for cold sores and shingles uses an emollient base of all-natural ingredients to offer relief for cold sores, as well as other various skin infections and conditions. It features organic shea butter with different essential oils such as tea tree, peppermint, and, of course, lemon balm. It also has gathered more positive reviews, especially from parents.
- Safe for use by children
- All-natural and vegan
- Also promises to cure pox rashes
- Some users say it takes a while before the desired results manifest
Orajel Cold Sore Treatment
The Orajel cold sore treatment features both antiseptic and anesthetic properties, which makes it ideal for people who hope to be free from the pain associated with cold sores. It comes in various forms, including a single-dose treatment that provides immediate effects. What makes this option different from others is that it penetrates deep down into the skin, which can help facilitate more effective treatment and more lasting results. It also does not require touching the sore to be applied, which can reduce risks of spreading the virus.
- Provides instant pain relief
- The applicator that it uses allows for maximum cleaning and deeper product penetration
- Single-dose treatments may not be enough for all patients
- Does not significantly shorten healing time
HERP-B-GONE Cold Sore Cream
HERP-B-GONE Cold Sore Cream prides itself on being formulated by a doctor, using a blend of essential oils and anti-viral ingredients. Its list of active ingredients includes coconut, lemongrass, tea tree, and peppermint oils, which are all infused with antiviral, anti-inflammatory, or antiseptic properties. If you want to be able to use the cream anywhere, you will be happy to know that it comes with a discreet packaging, so you can take care of your cold sores in peace. And it reportedly cures cold sores in two to three days.
- Promises 100% satisfaction
- Boosts faster healing time for cold sores
- Safe for use at the first sign of an outbreak
- May cause irritation to people who have allergies to essential oils
Campho-Phenique Medicated Cold Sore Treatment Maximum Strength Original Gel
This product is known for its drying action, which effectively numbs the cold sore, dries it out, and stops it from exacerbating. It should be applied at the first sign of the virus. It promises fast relief, particularly in lessening the pain from the condition. It also minimizes the potential for cracking on and around the sore, which can help reduce the risk for further infections.
- Considered effective by many users
- Provides immediate pain relief, upon contact
- Comes with a rather strong smell, which may not be ideal for some people
Quantum Super Lysine+ Cream
The Super Lysine Cream from Quantum features various ingredients that can help heal cold sores. These include lysine, propolis, vitamin E, and zinc oxide. Other ingredients are tea tree oil, echinacea flower extract, honey, vitamin A, and vitamin D3. Some users say that the effects of the cream are quite fast, with positive results manifesting in as short as a day.
- Ideal for sensitive skin, and in fact works to also treat conditions associated with sensitive skin
- Features a good blend of ingredients that can heal cold sores
- Some users say that it didn’t work for them
- The main active ingredient of the cream is also menthol, which may not help with cold sore treatment
Basic Organics L-Lysine Lip Ointment
Basic Organics L-Lysine Lip Ointment contains vitamins A, D, and E, as well as menthol, camphor, and tincture of benzoin. It purports to help provide relief for cold sores, fever blisters, and dry and minor skin issues. It is considered to be an effective alternative to taking L-lysine orally, with the same benefits. It also comes in a compact and convenient-sized jar, which makes it easy to use anywhere, any time.
- Effective for treating various conditions aside from cold sores
- Very affordable, for its size
- Contains fragrance, which may cause irritation to those with sensitivity issues
Zilactin Cold Sore Gel
This gel purports to feature a patented bioadhesive that makes it efficient for healing cold sores. Its main active ingredient is benzyl alcohol, which can dry out the sore and disinfect it. It also makes eating and drinking less painful. Users report that it provides a barrier over the site of the infection, which helps reduce risks for further infections. And it is safe for use by both adults and children two years old and above.
- Promises relief for up to 6 hours
- Also works for fever blisters
- Contains alcohol, which may produce irritation to those with allergies or skin sensitivities
Johnson Compeed Cold Sore Patches
These Compeed cold sore patches from Johnson are effective at containing the scope of the spread of the virus by sealing ruptured blisters. They are said to provide immediate relief from itching and burning, as well as to prevent scab formation. As a result, they can help reduce healing time.
- Comes with little to no side effects
- Each pack contains 15 patches
- May produce irritation to some people, as they contain adhesives
Who Needs Remedies for Cold Sores
Remedies for cold sores are, first and foremost, recommended to people who want to mitigate the pain associated with these blisters. Those undergoing the early stages, specifically, should look into potential treatment as this duration can present the most pain.
People who have had cold sores before may also want to make sure that they have ready remedies at their disposal. This is because certain risk factors can reactivate the virus. These include stress, severe burns, dental work, and even menstruation.
In addition, people who see symptoms of conditions that may be comorbid with cold sores should seek treatment. An example of these is erythema nodosum, which is characterized by painful lumps on the shins. In such a case, your doctor may prescribe medication for treatment.
Finally, those who have existing medical conditions such as eczema or any autoimmune disorder such as HIV/AIDS and think they may have contracted the virus should contact a doctor immediately to mitigate the situation.
Benefits of Remedies for Cold Sores
The advantages of using remedies for cold sores are obvious, which is the possible mitigation of the damage that they can do to a patient’s quality of life. However, it goes beyond that. Here are some of the benefits that we can look forward to from using remedies for cold sores.
- Reduction of Manifestation of Side Effects
Cold sores come with a host of side effects, which remedies can help ease. These include:
Itching. Itching usually happens one to three days before the sores appear on the skin. It happens at a specific site, such as the chin or the lip.
Blister Formation. This is what happens after itching. During this stage, the sores will start to crop up around the lips or the mouth. Blisters may also form on the chin, as well as the nose. In rare cases, blisters may form along the gum line. If this happens, remember to make sure that you are not confused as to whether the blisters are from the HPV 1 virus or canker sores. A good indicator? Cold sore blisters feature fluid or pus.
Pain. Cold sores will also cause pain, particularly around the area of the lesion. Most painful blisters will appear red or inflamed.
Ulcer Formation. Lastly, cold sores will produce ulcers. These manifest when the pus leaks out of the lesions and leave yellow or white crusts. At this point, the condition will also produce more pain, and will only get resolved when a scab forms and then gets flaked off.
With remedies, you are more protected against these symptoms. In fact, remedies can help speed up the whole process so that there are less pain and discomfort.
- Mitigation of Potential Complications
While cold sores are usually mild, they may give rise to complications in some cases. This is especially true among those who have compromised immune systems from illnesses, as well as treatments such as chemotherapy. Some of the conditions whose risks remedies for cold sores can help curb are as follows:
Dehydration. Although very rare, dehydration can occur if the cold sores are too painful to facilitate functional drinking of fluids. Young children are especially prone to this risk.
Herpetic whitlow. Herpetic whitlow refers to sores and blisters on and around fingers.
Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis. This condition happens when sores develop around the eye area, as well as on the eyelids. If left untreated, the sores can infect the cornea and potentially cause blindness. This is why it is important to limit contact with your eyes if you have cold sores.
Skin infections. If the virus spreads to other areas of the skin that features cuts or grazes or conditions like eczema, the blisters can spread and lead to infection.
Encephalitis. Finally, if the cold sore virus has spread to the brain, encephalitis can occur. This is very rare, but it is one that merits extremely careful management.
Types of Remedies for Cold Sores
- OTC Creams and Medicines
The range of over-the-counter topical creams and pill medications used as remedies for cold sores is mostly formulated to ease symptoms. Some are effective at boosting healing time, while others are not. Topical anesthetics, for example, may offer symptomatic relief from itching, burning, and pain, but their results last for only between 20 to 30 minutes. These anesthetics typically contain benzocaine (5%-20%), lidocaine (0.5%-4%), tetracaine (2%) or dibucaine (0.25%-1%), and examples include Lipactin gel and Zilactin.
Of all topical creams that can be purchased without a prescription, the Docosanol 10% cream has been found to be the only with a direct effect of reducing the duration of the infection. It is important, though, to remember to apply the cream at the first sign of a potential recurrence, such as tingling sensations. It should also be applied five times every day until the lesion has completely healed.
Similarly, there are skin protectants with petrolatum, dimethicone, or allantoin, which can be used to keep the lesions moist and prevent them from cracking. There are also lip balms with sunscreen that can help curb potential sun damage on the lesions. Zinc oxide creams, for their part, are formulated to help kill the virus cells released from scabbing sores. And OTC pain relievers such as Ibuprofen can also ensure longer pain-free durations.
- Prescription Creams and Medicines
Prescription creams and medicines are considered better at effectively easing symptoms while also reducing the time needed for healing, compared to their OTC counterparts. But that is not to say that they don’t come with their own specific set of challenges.
Topical medications that require a prescription such as topical acyclovir or penciclovir, for example, should be applied at specific intervals to ensure their efficacy. Acyclovir must be applied five times per day for four days, while the latter should be applied every two hours while awake for also four days. Also, as these are topical treatments, the range of their healing benefits is limited to only the site of the lesion, not the site where the virus is replicated.
Prescription pills, on the other hand, generally include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and Famciclovir. All three are considered beneficial for speeding up healing time, especially if they are used during the prodrome or the start of the appearance of the initial symptoms. They also come with manageable and few side effects, such as nausea and headache.
For adults with recurrent cold sores, Famciclovir is typically given at 1500mg for one dose, while valacyclovir is given at grams per dose, for every 12 hours, for one day. Acyclovir, on the other hand, is given as 400mg per dose, five times a day, for five days.
However, Famciclovir and valacyclovir are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be used for children with cold sores who are under 12 years of age. Pregnant and nursing women also need special guidance before they can use any of these medications.
- Essential Oils
Essential oils, which are concentrated plant oils, are also used as remedies for cold sores. They are either applied topically or inhaled with the use of an infuser. They require dilution with a carrier oil, such as olive or almond oil. Typical recipes for dilution commonly include 3 to 5 drops of the essential oil to an ounce of almond or olive oil. Also, be careful when dealing with these oils, as they are not meant for oral consumption; in fact, some of them can be toxic.
Some of those considered most effective for treating cold sores include:
Peppermint oil. Lab studies have indicated that this essential oil can calm symptoms of activated herpes strains, even those that are resistant to other drugs. To use, dilute it with a carrier oil and then apply it to the infected area at the first sign of symptoms for optimal results.
Lemon balm oil. Research suggests that lemon balm oil can inhibit penetration of the herpes virus into the cells by up to 96 percent. To use, apply the diluted oil to the lesion so that the oil can penetrate deep down into the layers of the skin for direct treatment of the virus. You can do this up to four times a day.
Chamomile oil. Another oil that is considered to work on drug-resistant herpes strains, chamomile oil soothes the skin while working as an effective antiviral agent. To use, apply it to the infected area as soon as you feel that the lesion is forming.
Oregano oil. The efficacy of oregano oil in treating cold sores has been well-established since 1996. To use, drop a few of its diluted form to a sterile cotton swab and apply to the lesion. The oil will reduce inflammation, lessen the size of the lesion, and allow it to heal more quickly.
Sandalwood oil. As with the others, studies have found out that sandalwood oil can be effective in treating cold sores. To use, dilute it with another essential oil, as well as a carrier oil, to lessen its distinct smell. Apply directly to a cold sore as soon as it appears.
Eucalyptus oil. Lab tests have asserted that eucalyptus essential oil can significantly curb the severity and duration of a cold sore. To use, make sure that it is properly diluted before applying to the infected area. It may have a calming and soothing sensation, but it should only be limited to four applications on any given day.
Tea tree oil. Finally, tea tree oil is considered to possess antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory benefits. To use, dilute it with a gentle carrier such a coconut or jojoba oil, drop a few of the diluted oil onto a clean cotton swab, and then apply to your cold sore. Make sure not to use this more than twice per day to reduce the potential for skin irritation.
- At-Home Remedies
Some people also swear by home remedies for cold sores. These work best for those who do not want to have to go the chemical route before exhausting other alternatives, or those who have contraindications against other treatment options. Some of the best options include:
Milk. Milk is rich in lysine, which is an amino acid that is considered to be effective in treating cold sores. To help ease cold sores, all you need to do with it is to dip a cotton ball in it and then apply it directly to the infected area. You can keep doing this until the sore heals.
Salt and water. This solution has been used in various types of conditions, from throat infections to allergic rhinitis. And it turns out, it is also among the most popular home remedies for cold sores. What you need to do with this is to simply wet your finger, and place a pinch of salt on it. You can then put your finger on the site of the sore for about two minutes. Similarly, you can wet a cotton swab in the solution and press it to the sore for a few minutes. The only challenge with going this route is that it may take a while before the desired effects manifest.
Aloe vera. Aloe vera gel is reportedly effective in healing cold sores. If you have the plant at home, simply take a leaf, open it, and put the gel over the site of the sore. If you don’t, get one from a shop, take a leaf, open it, and put the gel on the site of infection. Some shops also offer the gel, for your convenience.
Safety Considerations When Using Remedies for Cold Sores
There are no serious side effects that occur from using cold sore remedies, even those that require a prescription. Yes, pregnant and breastfeeding women need to talk to their physicians before starting any remedy program. But the rest of us are quite safe from potential negative consequences for using remedies for cold sores.
That is not to say, however, that using any of the aforementioned remedies in earlier sections should be used with no safety considerations in mind. Not at all. Those who want to use essential oils, for example, need to remember that they should be sure of no hypersensitivity to the ingredients before they use them. Also, these oils must be diluted with gentler carrier oils to reduce their potential abrasiveness.
Essential oils can also be a bit harsh on the skin. This is why they must never be over-used. Excessive applications can eventually weaken the skin’s epidermis and reduce its capacity for repair. In some cases, the resulting inflammation may even exacerbate the cold sore.
Other side effects of essential oils include stinging sensations, burning, and even bleeding at the site of infection. If you encounter these or more serious effects, discontinue the use of the oils and seek medical guidance.
The US Food and Drug Administration also does not provide blanket regulation guidelines for the production of essential oils. As a consumer, you need to verify that your source of these products is trustworthy. Always ask for proofs of purity, quality, and safety. It is also recommended to talk to a certified aromatherapist before making any purchasing decisions.
In addition, some products that are touted as remedies for cold sores do not exactly have FDA approval for certain people. Be mindful of the specific limitations that come with your chosen remedies so that you can ensure your optimal safety while using them.
Important Factors to Keep in Mind
Even with the availability of remedies for cold sores, at-home self-care is still among the first line of defense used by many people. If you’re giving it a try before you get onto remedies, one of the most important things to remember is to always wash your hands and to minimize the instances where you may touch your face. Utensils should also not be shared with other people, to limit the potential of communicating the condition to another.
Speaking of communicating cold sores, if you’ve ever had HSV-1, you are likely contagious a couple of times a year. This is true for both people with obvious cold sores, and those who do not. If you have a sore, you can be contagious when the sore is shedding. Also, some triggers such as stress and sunlight can reactivate the virus.
People with HSV-I can also transmit a certain form of genital herpes to their partners, through active contact. As such, while undergoing healing, it is best to limit contacts such as kissing or other intimate acts. Infected accessories such as toothbrushes should also be replaced. And wearing sunscreen is recommended, as this can help contain the scope of the damage.
Choosing among remedies for cold sores is mostly down to a matter of preference, as there are various treatments options that you can use, even in the comfort of your own home. Essential oils and at-home remedies provide a varied selection, and you can choose according to what best suits you.
Similarly, there are plenty of over-the-counter topical and oral treatments; one even has an FDA approval for use. And if you need something that comes with your doctor’s approval, prescription medication is also available.
Whichever treatment option you go for, it is important to remember to seek medical guidance before you embark on any methodology. This is not only because you will want to ensure your optimal safety, it is also helpful in making the most out of any given treatment method. Using essential oils, for example, promises a slew of rewards, but only if the oils are harnessed to their fullest properties.
In addition, using and succeeding at cold sore treatment is not the end-all and be-all of the issue. Remember that there are triggers that may reactivate the virus, and there are risks for the spread of the virus, even when the sore has healed. It is always best to supplement treatment with a commitment to proactive prevention.
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