You’re going about your day, and all of a sudden you realize that you’re feeling a little under the weather. Maybe you’re noticing some undue fatigue, a slight fever, a sore throat or swollen lymph nodes. These could be signs of a common cold or other infection, but once you start to notice the tell-tale sign of pain, tingling and burning in or around your mouth, you’re keen to the fact that you probably have a cold sore outbreak coming on. Also known as fever blisters, there are many causes behind an outbreak, such as:
- Certain medications
- Sun or wind exposure
- Poor diet
- Hormonal changes, such as menstruation
Unfortunately, once you contract the virus that is responsible for these painful and unsightly sores, called herpes simplex, it lies dormant within your body for the rest of your life.
Facts You Need to Know About Cold Sores
Cold sores are experienced by millions of Americans every single year. Although this condition is common, there are still many misconceptions and feelings of shame about experiencing an outbreak. Here are some facts everyone should know about the herpes simplex virus and cold sores:
- Cold sores cannot be cured
- Having oral cold sores does not mean a person has genital herpes
- Cold sores can also occur on the cheeks, fingers or in the nostrils
- A person with herpes simplex can spread the virus, even when they don’t have evidence of any open sores
- A cold sore generally heals on its own within 2-4 weeks
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore
As mentioned above, there is unfortunately no cure for cold sores. Due to the pain of these blisters and the embarrassment their presence can cause, most sufferers are constantly looking for ways to get rid of or reduce the healing time of their sores during an outbreak.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore: At-Home Remedies
The following treatments for cold sores are easy and cheap to do for yourself at home:
- Ice – Applying an ice cube to active sores for 10-15 minutes several times per day will help to numb the area, reducing pain. The cold also helps to reduce redness and inflammation.
- Tea bag compress – Applying a hot tea bag for 20-30 minutes a couple of times a day helps to decrease healing time. It is thought that tannins, the compounds found within tea leaves that possess astringent and antioxidant properties, help your body to fight off the herpes simplex virus.
- Hydrogen peroxide swab – Swabbing an active cold sore with hydrogen peroxide twice a day helps to fight bacteria, remove crust and dead skin and provides oxygen to the sore.
- Aloe – Touted as a veritable panacea for nearly any skin problem, aloe gel soothes and calms an inflamed cold sore.
- Vitamins – Increasing vitamin intake helps to support the body’s immune system, reducing healing time and decreasing the likelihood of future outbreaks.
- Petroleum jelly – Keeping a cold core moist with a thin layer of petroleum jelly keeps the sore from cracking and bleeding while also protecting it from environmental trauma such as wind and debris.
Furthermore, make sure to replace your toothbrush after an infection, as the bristles make a perfect breeding ground for the virus. It is also important wash towels, sheets and pillowcases in hot water to avoid any accidental cross-contamination.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore – Medical Treatments
Since the culprit behind cold sores is a virus, antibiotics do nothing to treat an outbreak. Here are some medical treatments that can help to get rid of and treat cold sores:
- Antiviral medication – Certain antivirals that are available by prescription help to suppress herpes outbreaks and reduce the healing time of active blisters. These medications may be recommended as a preventative during times of increased risk of an outbreak, at the first sign of an outbreak to reduce the severity and duration or as a routine dosage for those who need increased treatment efficacy.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications – There are many OTC treatments available to aid in the healing of cold sores. Many ointments are available at the pharmacy to reduce discomfort and inflammation, while certain products are actually FDA-approved to help reduce the healing time of a cold sore. Amino-acid and dietary supplement enriched creams may help to support the body’s innate healing powers, resulting in a shorter period of outbreak.
Prevention – The Best Medicine
Even with all of the treatments listed above, the average person probably won’t see a drastically reduced healing time with any treatment. When dealing with the herpes simplex virus, prevention really is the key to avoiding these painful blisters. Here are some simple steps to take that may help you to avoid future sores:
- Eat a diet rich in vitamins
- Stay well-hydrated
- Get enough sleep to avoid fatigue
- Wear sunscreen daily
- Don’t share cups or utensils with others
- Keep outbreak-prone skin areas well moisturized
Most people experience fewer outbreaks of less severity over time as their body learns to more effectively fight the herpes simplex virus. However, should your cold sore prove to be exceptionally painful or take longer than 2-4 weeks to heal, call your health professional for an evaluation.