There’s nothing worse than that tingling feeling to tell you a cold sore is on the way.
Whether it’s before a big day out or just ahead of that important interview, they always seem to pop up at the worst possible time.
As well as looking pretty horrible, they can be very painful and contagious.
There are a few simple things you can try yourself which will hopefully speed up the process, and some of them are practically free.
1. Antiviral creams
Antiviral creams, which are available over the counter without a prescription, may speed up healing process.
But they’re only effective if you use them as soon as you notice the early signs of a cold sore. You will need to apply the cream four or five times a day.
In more severe cases doctors may prescribe antiviral tablets, which most people find more effective.
2. Cold sore patches
Cold sore patches are also available which are placed over the cold sore to hide the sore area while it heals. They contain a gel called hydrocolloid.
3. Light treatment
Electronic devices which treat cold sores with lights or lasers are sold at some pharmacies and online, however there haven’t been many studies into these.
The reviews are mixed, but here are a couple we’ve found online that could help get rid of your cold sores:
4. Ice cubes
Using ice cubes is similar to holding a bag of peas over a bruise. It reduces the swelling and helps the cold sore to heal.
Try to rub the ice cube on the cold sore a couple of times a day and avoid scratching for it to have the maximum effect.
5. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is rich in antiviral properties and has methanol, which is good for healing. This makes it an ideal solution for cold sores and safe to use.
Soak a cotton ball in peppermint oil and dab gently three times a day. It’ll help the cold sore disappear and sooth the irritation.
6. Drink plenty of fluids
Cold sores aren’t directly caused by dehydration, but a lack of fluids can cause cause the virus to activate. With dry lips the skin is prone to cracking, which allows infection. Make sure to drink plenty of water as it won’t only help your lips but your body health in general.
- Avoid touching cold sores at all costs
- Do no pick the scab – this will slow down healing
- If brushing your teeth is painful, use antiseptic mouthwash
- Don’t share cold sore creams with others
- Wash hands using soap before applying cold sore creams
- Dab creams on sores rather than rubbing them in
- Paracetamol and ibuprofen can be used to deal with the pain
There are also some home remedies that people believe help their cold sores:
- Applying cold, used tea bags every hour
- Using unscented moisturiser, such as Vaseline, to prevent the skin from cracking
- Geranium oil, tea tree oil – diluted – and lavender oil – can soothe the pain
Treatments will only help to get rid of the current cold sore. It is not possible to get rid of the virus.
5 best shop bought remedies
- Bonjela Cold Sore Cream Invisible – contains an active medical ingredient called UV-Active which helps create a protective layer on skin cells which stops virus particles attaching.
- Blistex Cold Sore Cream – clinically proven to soothe and moisturise infected cold sore areas on lips.
- Aloe Vera gel – this remedy is cost effective and natural for those who want to benefit from the healing and soothing properties found in the plant.
- Compeed cold sore patch , £5.85 from Waitrose – each patch offers up to 12 hours of treatment as the patch acts as a virus shield and helps to reduce risk of further contamination.
- Lemon Balm , £11.50 from Neal’s Yard – this is another natural remedy that helps reduce swelling and soreness.
What causes cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus.
They are only caught by direct skin contact, normally by kissing or oral sex.
You cannot give cold sores to someone who already gets them.
Once infected, the virus remains in the nerves until triggered when it will then cause a cold sore.
Some people will get cold sores several times a year but others will only ever have one.
There are many different triggers which can bring on cold sores, but in some cases they appear for no apparent reason.
Factors which can cause an outbreak include:
- Stress or emotional upset
- Having another infection
- Having a fever
Are cold sores herpes?
The short answer is yes. However, it’s not the same as genital herpes.
The majority of facial cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, more commonly known as HSV-1.
Genital herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or herpes simplex virus type 2.
The virus, especially type 1, is very common.
According to the Herpes Viruses Association about six in ten people have type 1 by the time they are 25 and about one in ten carries type 2.
Most people who have it are unaware because their symptoms are so mild they don’t notice.
How do you prevent cold sores
Cold sores are less likely if your immune system is in good shape. A healthy lifestyle is key to this.
Make sure you get enough sleep and improve your diet if neccessary.
Are cold sores contagious?
Cold sores are extremely contagious – especially when the blister bursts.
The virus can be passed between people by direct contact, normally kissing or oral sex.
There are many reports that they can be caught through sharing cups, cutlery and towels, but this is untrue.
It passes through the skin and then travels up the nerves.
In most cases, it remains inactive until it is triggered at a later date.
Most people get the virus when they are a child by being kissed by adults with an active sore.
When are cold sores not contagious?
Bad news – cold sores are contagious until they are completely healed.
What foods should you avoid when you have a cold sore?
The NHS recommended avoiding acidic and salty foods when you are suffering from a cold sore.
They suggest picking cool and soft foods instead.
How long does a cold sore last?
The amount of time a cold sore hangs around for can vary, but it’s roughly 14 days. That’s from the day you first feel a tingle, to the day it’s completely healed.
For the first couple of days the cold sore will be developing. You will feel a tingle and the skin may also tighten.
In day 3 and 4 the body begins to fight the virus and a blister will appear. These blisters contain virus particles which spread the virus. Doing this will restart the cycle and make the cold sores last longer.
Around day 4 or 5 the blisters burst, which leaves a shallow ulcer. The cold sore will begin to dry out from here and until day 10. When dry, the cold sore may crack, which can delay the healing process.
To speed up the process, avoid the urge to pick and scratch a cold sore. This not only prolongs the life of an existing cold sore, but can also create a new virus.
When should I go to the doctor?
Although most cold sores will disappear in a few days, if it’s still there in fifteen or more days book an appointment with your GP.
You should also get it checked if it’s very large or painful, if you also have swollen and painful gums or if you’re pregnant.
Check out the NHS page on cold sores for a little more information on when to get them checked out by a doctor, and when they might not be cold sores.
If you have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy or diabetes you can also book an appointment.
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