One of the most unwelcome nemeses for many people is cold sores. Not only are they unflattering and downright awful to sport around on your face, they also hurt quite a bit. Let’s not forget the unappealing fact that cold sores also happen to be caused by the herpes virus….uhhh yeah, lovely right?
At any rate, having a cold sore is just plain embarrassing and most people will do anything to get rid of them.
In this article I will extensively cover everything I can about cold sores and how to get rid of them.
Here are the main points and commonly asked questions I will discuss:
• What is a Cold Sore?
• How do You Get a Cold Sore/ Cold Sore Causes
• Cold Sore Symptoms and The Stages of a Cold Sore
• Are Cold Sores Contagious/ when are Cold Sores Contagious?
• How to Prevent Cold Sore Transmission
• How long do Cold Sores Last?
• The Holistic Approach- How to Prevent Cold Sores
• How to Treat a Cold Sore- Cold Sore Home Remedies
• How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Fast
• How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Overnight
• Cold Sore Home Remedies
What is a Cold Sore
Simply put, a cold sore is an inflamed blister in or near the mouth, caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus. The most common form is caused by herpes simplex type 1 or HSV-1. Although less common, some people can get cold sores from the herpes simplex type 2 virus (HSV-2) which is caused by coming in direct oral contact with genital herpes. So, in case you can’t quite fathom it (and believe me, A LOT of people ignore this fact or won’t believe it), let’s be clear: Are cold sores herpes? Yes, yes they are.
Once the herpes simplex type 1 virus is contracted, it will live within the nerve cells and can be dormant for weeks, months, and even years. In fact some people may carry the virus and never actually experience a cold sore breakout.
How do You Get a Cold Sore/ Cold Sore Causes
There are many ways to contract the herpes simplex type 1 virus. Kissing someone who has an outbreak is the most common way but you can also get it by sharing drinks, utensils, or anything else that has touched their mouth and then yours. You can also get the virus if others have touched their sores with their hands and then touched an object you then touch soon afterward.
Once you have the herpes virus is can be triggered by a number of different things.
Some of which include:
• Long periods of sun exposure
• Overindulgence of coffee, tea, and other stimulants
• Allergies and intolerances
• Trauma/Injury to the area
• Weakened immune system
• Other viral infection like cold and flu (by weakening the immune system)
• Taking immunosuppressive drugs (HIV, Chemotherapy, etc.)
• Eating foods high in arginine
• Other emotional distress
A whopping 75% of the population carries the herpes virus. Sometimes outbreaks occur periodically, sometimes they appear only once and never again. Other times outbreaks may occur for a period of time and then stop altogether. It all depends on immunity and our abilities to moderate stress in our lives.
Cold Sore Symptoms and The Stages of a Cold Sore
Most people who have dealt with cold sores a few times will tell you that the first thing they feel when a cold sore is developing is a slight tingling, itching, or burning sensation. Soon after, a red bump will appear and steadily grow into a painful itchy blister that tends to swell dramatically on the lip or other mucosal membranes. These sores will usually ooze until a yellow crust forms over them. After a week or two, the crust will come off leaving pink skin underneath that heals within a few days.
Here’s a short overview of the stages of a cold sore
1. Tingling, itching, or burning sensation
2. Red bump appears
3. Red bump fills with fluid and becomes a sore
4. Sore begins to weep and ooze clear fluid
5. The sore develops a yellow crust and is itchy
6. The yellow crust comes off revealing pink skin underneath
7. The pink skin heals without scarring within a few days
For those who have never had the herpes simplex type 1 virus, these symptoms will occur within one week of contacting the virus. For carriers, these symptoms will usually be triggered.
Often, cold sores will reoccur in the same place and many times the blisters will group together…as if cold sores couldn’t get any worse! The good thing is there are many treatments and preventative measures you can take to lessen the frequency, severity, and duration of cold sore outbreaks.
Are Cold Sores Contagious? AND When are Cold Sores Contagious?
Cold sores are most contagious when you come in contact with someone who has them during an outbreak. What constitutes and outbreak? I consider it an outbreak the instant you feel tingling, burning, or itching. However, it is not uncommon to contract the herpes simplex type 1 virus via viral shedding even when the cold sore virus is dormant. This means that if you kiss someone who gets cold sores even when they don’t currently have a cold sore or even a visible cold sore, you can still contract the virus.
Once you have an active sore developing, it is extremely contagious. So to answer the above question: Are cold sores contagious? The answer is a resounding and definite YES.
How to Prevent Cold Sore Transmission
If you have an active cold sore, you should take steps to avoid transmission to others.
You can do this by:
• Not touching the sores with your hands
• Not touching the sore with objects and then sharing with others (i.e. glasses, utensils, lip balm, anything else shared with others that will come in contact with the face/mouth)
• Washing your hands often especially if you have touched the sores
• Avoid touching other mucus membranes such as areas around the eyes, nose, and genitals without first washing your hands well
Of course, preventing an outbreak to begin with is also a sound course of action. You can do this by taking immune boosting herbs and supplements, applying topical remedies, as well as practice a few lifestyle changes. All of these methods will be discussed in the “How to Prevent Cold Sores” section of this article below.
How Long do Cold Sores Last?
Typically, even without proper treatment, cold sores will last no longer than 2 weeks. Though of course you can shorten the healing time considerably with a few good remedies.
To break it down I here is a list of how long each stage should last:
1. The first hint, usually a tingle or itching- Days 1-2
2. Blistering- Days 2-4
3. Weeping and oozing sores- Day 4
4. The open sores begin to heal. A Yellow crust forms- Days 5-8
5. The yellow crust begins to shed- Days-8-10 sometime up to 14 days
So how long does a cold sore last? Anywhere from a week to 10 days my friends. At least with normal treatment. It’s just one of those things!
The Holistic Approach- How to Prevent Cold Sores
Prevention is the best course of action to keep cold sores at bay and to do that you need to know what really aggravates a breakout.
Along with a few tried and true remedies, these are the things you should work on to ensure you stay cold sore free:
• Avoid stressful situations that cause an outbreak
Stress is a huge factor in cold sore breakouts for a lot of people. In this day and age, it’s easy to get piled under endless to-do lists and the everyday hustle and bustle. If you are prone to stress and get cold sores as a result, you NEEDto find ways to relax and take a step back for a moment. The stress will only weaken your defenses against future outbreaks.
Try to find time in your day to let go. Take a walk, enjoy a book, or pour yourself some herbal tea to help ease tension and lower stress.
• Avoid excessive arginine intake (avoid too much beer, cereals, nuts, and peas)
Yes, I said stop drinking so much beer. I know, I know…it’s hard, but if you don’t bring your arginine and lysine levels back to equilibrium, you’re gonna get cold sores more easily!
In case you’re wondering, arginine is an amino acid that plays an important role in cell division, the healing of wounds, immune function, the release of hormones, and removing ammonia from the body. It’s certainly important for our overall health, but getting too much of it in relation to lysine is where things get tricky.
In fact, eating too many foods that have high amounts of arginine compared to lysine will give viral replication the upper hand no matter what virus is trying to take root, including herpes.
Do yourself a favor and balance your diet with lysine rich foods!
Here’s a wonderful table that shows you the ratios of arginine to lysine in the foods we eat.
• Opt in for more lysine rich foods like meats, high quality dairy, fish, eggs, and certain fruit
As I discussed above, upping your lysine often makes all the difference. Try including more apples, papayas, grapefruit, and apricots to your diet on a daily basis to help balance out that arginine!
You can also supplement with lysine to help counteract too much arginine. I personally use this one.
• Support the nervous system
Again, reducing stress is a key factor in supporting not only our overall health, but specifically our nervous system. Avoiding excess stress or finding tools to help you manage it will help protect and support your nervous system and hopefully help prevent triggering cold sore outbreaks.
Here are a few lifestyle change ideas to include in your day:
3. Tai chi
4. Breathing exercises
7. Get meaningful rest!
Along with rest comes meaningful sleep. Not getting enough sleep will only make it easier for cold sores to pop up due to an impaired nervous system. Getting as must restful sleep as you can will help ensure strong resilience to not only the herpes virus, but other viruses as well.
The idea is to RELAX and let your nervous system recover from the daily grind.
• Support immunity
If you happen to get a lot of other viruses or bacterial infections, consider upping your immune support. Catching every cold and flu you pass by is a big indicator for some much needed TLC. It’s also recommended that you begin getting meaningful rest and nourishment from homemade bone broth, fermented foods, and other nutrient dense meals.
Taking immunomodulating herbs and supplements will of course speed up your recovery and up your defenses.
• Take proper supplements
1. Lysine– One of the best and most well-known supplements for cold sores is Lysine. Not only is it an effective treatment on the onset (4-6 grams per day in increments), it is also a fantastic preventative (1 gram per day).
2. Vitamin D3– take 2500 IU -5000 IU per day
3. B Complex– take daily
4. B12– take 2000 IU daily
How to Treat a Cold Sore
One of my favorite approaches to preventing and healing cold sores is by incorporating herbs. Below I will go over how to use them for each phase of a cold sore so that you get the best treatment possible.
Herbs for Cold Sores
There are a number of herbal allies that can help stave off and treat an outbreak. Below are a few different approaches to the different stages of cold sores.
• Herbs for Prevention
By far the best route to go is from a preventative standpoint when dealing with herpes as herbs are most effective in this way. Unfortunately, once you have an outbreak, there is little one can do with herbs to stop it. However, there are a few tried and true way to keep an outbreak from happening all together.
1. Using relaxing nervines (especially for stress reduction)
2. Using adaptogens to help modulate the negative effects of stress
3. Using immunomodulators to support the immune system
4. Using anti-viral herbs to help inhibit the virus from being triggered
a. St. John’s Wort– best a tea 3-6 grams per day. This is my favorite tea
b. Lemon Balm– great as a tea! This is my favorite one.
c. Licorice Root– use in small amounts daily (I like this capsule)
My favorite herb to use for prevention is lemon balm not only because it tastes nice after a long day, it also contains compounds that have the ability to latch onto receptor cites of our cells to keep viruses from latching on instead. Pretty cool if you ask me!
• Herbs for the Onset (lessens the duration and severity)
These herbs can be used continually if the prevention method falls through. Each one can be used both topically and internally for best results. Again, lemon balm is my favorite.
1. St. John’s Wort
2. Lemon Balm
• Herbs to Use During an Outbreak
Unfortunately, once there is a full blown outbreak herbs will not be as dramatically effective at shortening the duration.
All you can do is continue to use the herbs mentioned above in small amounts and very frequently (every half hour) and up your lysine intake.
• Herbs to Heal the Blisters
Once the blisters are done blistering and have gone through their process and begin to look more like a scab, I recommend using vulnerary herbs to help heal the lesion.
• Herbs for Recovery
It’s important to remember that herpes is a viral systemic outbreak and people will often report not feeling well or having low energy once the outbreak is over. It’s like having a cold or flu, cold sores can really take it out of you physically! It may seem isolated, but it really isn’t.
The best measures to take when recovering from cold sores is to:
1. Take additional rest and nourishment to help rebuild and support immunity
2. Take immunity boosting herbs like Echinacea and Garlic
3. Take adaptogenic herbs like Holy basil and Rhodiola
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Fast
Honestly, the fastest way to get rid of cold sores is by preventing them in the first place, but if you do happen to feel one coming on I will always recommend lysine for cold sores in every instance.
Not only will lysine keep you from getting them, it will always be one of the most sure fire ways to get rid of cold sores quickly.
You should also consider applying a lysine rich lip balm (I like this one) as often as you can. This balm can be used daily but should especially be used during an outbreak.
You can read about the benefits of elderberry here.
You can read about the benefits of echinacea here.
How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Overnight
Unfortunately this just isn’t possible under any normal means that I know of. If there was a way to get rid of cold sores so quickly, I’m convinced everyone would know about it by now.
What we have to remember is the herpes virus has very specific stages that each take time. You may be able to quicken the time for each stage but it isn’t going to happen in a day.
The best you can do is be very consistent with treatment. The fastest you can get rid of a cold sore that I have heard of is about 4 days with natural remedies.
Cold Sore Home Remedies and Recipes
Echinacea is one of the best remedies to use during an outbreak to help boost your white blood cells into action. It’s immunomodulaing properties will help you get rid of cold sores quickly.
St. John’s Wort Tea-
St. John’s Wort is probably the most effective herb there is against the herpes simplex virus (both types 1 and 2). One compound in particular is responsible for killing the herpes simplex virus along with several other viruses.
Applying St. John’s Wort topically either as a salve or as a tea is a great way to help lessen the duration and severity of the outbreak. Don’t forget to drink the tea too!
*** CAUTION- St. John’s Wort interacts with MANY medications and prescription drugs. DO NOT take St. John’s Wort if you take these.
Of course, my favorite way to prevent and treat cold sores as mentioned previously is by drinking Lemon Balm tea. It’s delicious, relaxing, and super effective against viruses. It literally takes up the receptor cites on our own cells and protects them from viruses that want to attach themselves to the same receptors.
Applying manuka honey to the cold sore will help soothe, protect, and heal the sore during the blister and flaking stages. Manuka honey is known to be anti-viral and anti-bacterial, both important for treating cold sores.
There are MANY different home remedies out there. What are the best cold sore treatment options? Honestly, it comes down to what you have available to you and how consistent you are with use.
Below are a few great recourses that are definitely worth taking a look at:
This post contains affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Read my full disclosure and disclaimer.