How to conquer cold sores

Are you prone to getting cold sores?  Are you fed up with those small painful blisters appearing around your lips and mouth?  Do you feel embarrassed and self-conscious when you get one? Whether you’re someone who gets them occasionally or regularly, understanding what causes them and how to treat them naturally can make a big difference. In this blog, I’ll explore the causes of cold sores and give you some effective natural remedies to knock them on the head.

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What are cold sores?

Cold sores are small blisters full of fluid, which usually appear on a lip and around the mouth. You often get a tell-tale tingling or stinging feeling on your lips just before the cold sore breaks. Once the blister appears, it usually bursts and crusts over, disappearing after several days or a couple of weeks. You may also find blisters appear in your mouth. Cold sores are most contagious when fluid seeps out of the sores. Once the sore has scabbed over, the virus is significantly less contagious.

The first time you get a cold sore, you might also get flu-like symptoms at the same time, which can include a sore throat, swollen glands, sore gums, a headache, body ache or a fever. Some people get mild symptoms of these every time a cold sore flares up, but this is very rare, and usually you just get the pesky reminder it is in your system, from the uncomfortable sore on your lips.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Cold sores are primarily caused by HSV-1, although HSV-2 can also cause them through oral sex. HSV is a very common infection, with HSV-1 affecting 70 percent of people in the UK, and approximately ten percent of people having HSV-2.

HSV-1, sometimes known as oral herpes, is highly contagious and can be easily transmitted through direct contact with an infected person’s saliva, skin or mucous membranes.

Once contracted, the virus remains dormant in the body’s nerve cells and can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • Stress – emotional or physical stress weakens the immune system, making someone more susceptible to outbreaks.
  • Illness or fever – a weakened immune system due to illness or fever can trigger a cold sore outbreak.
  • Sun exposure – overexposure to sunlight, particularly UV rays, can activate the virus and cause outbreaks.
  • Hormonal changes – fluctuations in hormones, such as those occurring during menstruation, can trigger cold sore outbreaks. One study found that women were more susceptible to herpes outbreaks after the menopause if they were not taking HRT.
  • Excessive alcohol or caffeine – drinking too much alcohol or caffeine can cause outbreaks of cold sores.
  • Overtiredness – feeling exhausted and not getting enough sleep can cause cold sores.

Natural remedies to help ease cold sores

There is no cure for the herpes simplex virus, but there are natural remedies that can help ease symptoms and can potentially reduce the frequency and severity of cold sore outbreaks:

  • Lysine – an essential amino acid that plays a crucial role in the body’s immune function. It works by reducing the replication of the herpes virus. Foods rich in lysine include poultry, fish, dairy products, legumes and nuts. Additionally, lysine supplements are available for those who may not get enough from their diet.
  • Vitamin C – well-known for its immune-boosting properties, which help fight off viral infections. Citrus fruits, red peppers, strawberries, parsley and leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin C. Supplements are also available for those looking to increase their intake.
  • Zinc – an essential mineral that plays a vital role in immune function and wound healing. Zinc has been shown to supress the replication of the herpes simplex virus. Foods rich in zinc include meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and nuts. Zinc supplements can also be beneficial, particularly for those with zinc deficiency.
  • Monolaurin – a compound derived from lauric acid, which is found in coconut oil. Its antiviral properties have been shown to inhibit the replication of the herpes simplex virus. While more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness, some people have reported success in using monolaurin supplements to manage cold sore outbreaks.

Round up

Cold sores can be painful and leave you feeling drained, emotional, self-conscious and, in extreme circumstances, socially isolated. However, they are very common and don’t have to control your life. Through understanding the causes of cold sores and trying natural remedies like lysine, vitamin C, zinc and monolaurin, you can effectively manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of those pesky outbreaks. With the right approach, you can minimise the nasty effect of cold sores, enjoy clearer and healthier skin, and overall feel much better in yourself. If you are really struggling with recurrent cold sores or HSV-1 infections, seek advice from one of our NatureDoc clinical team.

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