Natural home remedies for Cold Sores: Doctor's Pick

Written by Dr Nelson Lau, MBBS FRACGP, GP & Digital Health Specialist

Cold sores are those annoying, fluid-filled blisters cropping up around your mouth, reminding you of their presence with a relentless itch and sting. We’ve all experienced them, but how do we manage these unwelcome guests? While no cure exists for the virus behind them, several natural home remedies for cold sores can offer relief and a degree of speeding up the healing process. Understanding the cause is the first line of defence.

What Causes a Cold Sores?

The culprit behind those irritating blisters is the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Once infected, the virus remains dormant inside nerves but can re-emerge anytime.

While both herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) can be spread through close contact, they have distinct preferences. HSV-1 is primarily associated with oral herpes, causing the familiar cold sores around the mouth. HSV-2 is usually responsible for genital herpes. However, due to the increase in oral sex, cold sores can now also be caused by HSV-2, and less frequently, genital lesions can be caused by HSV-1. The key takeaway is that both viruses can spread to new locations on your body, or other individuals, regardless of the initial site of infection.

Trigger factors include:

  • Stress and fatigue
  • A weakened immune system
  • Hormonal shifts
  • Sun and wind exposure
  • Cold or flu
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Natural Home Remedies for Cold Sores

Fortunately, nature’s medicine cabinet offers some soothing relief while your body tries to fight off the virus:

1. Honey

Raw, unprocessed honey provides healing and antibacterial properties. Apply a thin layer directly to your sore several times daily. Honey helps with soothing and hydrating your skin. When choosing honey for your cold sore, it’s best to select raw, unprocessed honey, which contains all the beneficial compounds. Manuka honey is renowned for its antibacterial and wound-healing properties. While some studies indicate its potential effectiveness in treating cold sores due to its soothing and moisturizing effects, the evidence is limited, and further research is needed to establish its definitive role in cold sore treatment.

2. Hot Fluids

Drinking warm herbal teas, like lemon balm or chamomile, can offer internal and external relief. Apply cooled, steeped tea bags directly to the sore for a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect. It’s also crucial to stay hydrated with plain water to support your body’s healing functions.  Hydration is key in any sort of wound healing. Drinking plenty of warm fluids can keep the skin hydrated and support your body’s natural immune response as it fights off infection.

3. Lysine

This amino acid may possess the ability to interfere with the replication of the herpes simplex virus. Lysine supplements are available, but some foods naturally contain lysine too – think fish, chicken, dairy, and beans. Certain studies support lysine’s efficacy in reducing the duration and frequency of cold sores, but the evidence remains inconclusive, and more research is required for a definitive recommendation.

4. Liquorice Root

Liquorice root can be found in teas or as an extract to apply topically (with caution, as it can raise blood pressure in some people).  Liquorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid, which has been studied for its antiviral properties. While some research suggests that it might help treat cold sores, these studies are preliminary. Additionally, its potential side effect of raising blood pressure in some individuals should be considered.

5. Aloe Vera

The gel from the aloe vera plant has soothing and potentially healing properties. Apply a small amount directly to your cold sore. There is anecdotal evidence supporting its use in treating cold sores, but scientific research on this specific application is limited.

6. Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is celebrated for its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Some studies have found it to be effective in reducing the severity of cold sores when applied in the early stages. However, these findings are based on limited research, and it’s crucial to always dilute tea tree oil in a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation.

What to Avoid When You Have a Cold Sore?

It’s not only about what you put on a cold sore but also what you avoid for optimal healing:

  • Touching or picking: Hands off those blisters! The fluid inside contains the virus, so avoid touching the sore unless applying medication, and wash your hands meticulously to prevent spreading.
  • Acidic and salty foods: Citrus fruits, spicy dishes and excess salt can intensify the stinging sensation.
  • Sharing personal items: Avoid spreading the virus through shared towels, drinking glasses or utensils.

When to Consult a Doctor?

While cold sores usually clear on their own within 1-2 weeks, there are times when seeing your doctor is wise before starting on any home remedies:

  • Very severe or frequent outbreaks
  • Spreading sores or symptoms of secondary infection (fever, pus)
  • Cold sores near your eyes
  • A compromised immune system

Can Telehealth Doctors Help with Dry Cough?

Telehealth doctors can quickly assess cold sores and provide advice. For severe cases, they can prescribe antiviral medications to curb the outbreak.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to keep a cold sore moist or dry?

Keeping a cold sore slightly moist promotes faster healing and helps to prevent cracking. Avoid harsh drying agents, but gently dabbing the area with a clean cotton swab after applying medication will prevent it from becoming overly soggy.

How do you dry out a cold sore overnight?

While some people suggest using diluted apple cider vinegar for its astringent properties, there is limited scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness against cold sores. Moreover, its acidity might cause irritation. It’s advisable to use clinically approved treatments for reliable results.

Does toothpaste help cure cold sores?

There’s no scientific evidence to support the use of toothpaste on cold sores. Regular toothpaste may even irritate the sore and delay the healing process so it is not recommended.

Does salt water help cold sores?

Diluted salt water rinses can provide temporary soothing relief and cleanse the area. However, salt water alone won’t significantly speed up the healing process.

What dries out a cold sore?

The most effective way to dry out and treat cold sores is through over-the-counter or prescription antiviral creams containing ingredients like acyclovir. These treatments are scientifically proven to reduce healing time and the severity of symptoms.

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.