Cold sores are a viral infection caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus. The virus enters the body and travels to the top end of the nerves where it lies dormant. During this inactive state there is no sign of infection. It is only when the virus is ‘woken up’ that the cold sore forms. Once activated, the virus travels back along to the nerve endings in the skin, where it starts to replicate on the edge of the lips. This is when blistering occurs, sometimes without warning but occasionally you’ll feel a tingling or itching sensation, followed by weeping and ulceration. Cold sore triggers vary but tend to include physical or emotional stress, over exposure to UV light, fever, fatigue and drugs that suppress the immune system.
Natural cold sore remedies
Most conventional cold sore treatments are only effective at the tingling stage, before the blisters occur and once the blister has reared its ugly head, it can take up to ten days for the cold sore to run its course.
Some natural cold sore remedies however can be effective at every stage of a cold sore.
Honey is famous for its antibacterial and healing qualities, and these are intensified in Manuka honey , making it the perfect way to tackle cold sores. Manuka honey naturally contains disinfecting hydrogen peroxide, as well as a natural antibacterial called methylglyoxal. The higher the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) of the Manuka honey, the more potent it will be.
Applying Manuka honey to a cold sore provides a protective layer that stops bacteria from entering and making it worse. It might sting a little at first, but it will help to reduce the pain in the long run as it stops the sore from drying out and cracking.
Another bee-related cold sore remedy is propolis. This thick, sticky resin is created from a combination of bees’ saliva, beeswax and plant sap, and is famous for treating cold sores and other minor wounds. A. Vogel’s Bio-Propolis Lip Care Ointment can be applied up to 5 times a day for constant protection. Even if you miss the initial tingling stage, it will still help to fight the infection.
St John's Wort oil
Hypericum tincture ( St. John’s Wort oil ) taken internally can also be useful for cold sores, as it is anti-viral. Dilute 20 drops of tincture into a little water twice daily. Hypericum can interact with other medication and affect the way they work, so it isn’t suitable for everyone. Check with your GP first if on any prescribed medicines.
The role of amino acids and cold sores
If you routinely experience cold sore outbreaks, there are also two amino acids you need to bear in mind: lysine and arginine.
Lysine, found naturally in lean meats (turkey and lean pork), fish, corn and soya, can help to curb their frequency and severity, whereas arginine, found in chocolate, lentils, beans and nuts, is used by the virus to grow and replicate.
Increase your intake of lysine-rich foods and to avoid those that are naturally rich in arginine. A lysine supplement can also help, and can be used to help treat an existing sore or to help prevent cold sores.
Research has not been able to identify exactly why lysine can help with cold sores. Some think it has an effect on the enzyme that activates the virus, while others think it inhibits the activity of arginine.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil has fantastic antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, making it perfect for keeping your cold sore clean as well as speeding up the healing process. Simply dilute with olive oil and apply to the sore using a cotton bud.
Catch your cold sore early
The best way to get rid of a cold sore quickly is to catch it as early as possible. The ideal time to start taking precautions is at the very first stage – when you start feeling a slight tingling or itching on your lip.
And don’t touch your cold sore, pick at it or scratch it. Touching your cold sore can transfer bacteria from your hands into the open skin, which can cause it to become infected and take longer to heal. Ideally, any creams or remedies should be applied using a cotton bud where possible.
Recurrent cold sores
Recurrent cold sores may indicate a compromised immune system, so you should also consult your GP or healthcare professional if they do keep coming back. Children with recurrent cold sores should be referred to a doctor.