Painful and annoying, a cold sore is caused by a viral infection that flares up when you are fighting off a cold or flu.
Typically, a tingling or burning sensation around the lips, chin, or nose is the first symptom of a cold sore which may result in a red lesion that later leaves a scab as it heals.
Fever blisters, another common name for cold sores, describes the higher-than-normal temperature that cold sore sufferers sometimes encounter as the body's way of fighting off infection.
Highly contagious, cold sores can last between 8-10 days, but if left untreated cold sores may stick around for up to two weeks.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which remains in the body to flair up again whenever you are feeling unusually stressed or run down. That is why it's also important to consider getting extra rest or to improve your diet to speed healing at the first sign of a cold sore.
Although there is no known cure for getting rid of the herpes simplex virus, there are a number of medical, nutritional, and suggested homemade treatments available that aid in healing and lessen the pain of cold sores or fever blisters:
1. OTC medications - The first over-the-counter medication approved in the United States by the FDA, Abreva is a lip balm formulated to fight off cold sores and speed healing. Docosanol is the active ingredient in Abreva, which may become ineffective as the body becomes accustomed to the treatment after repeated use.
2. Vitamin therapy - available in the vitamin section of most drug or health food stores, L-Lysine is an essential amino acid that helps protect mouth tissue. Although studies are so far inconclusive, anecdotal evidence points to L-Lysine's effectiveness in fighting off symptoms when taken at the first sign of a cold sore or fever blister. The suggested dose is 500 mg. taken twice daily, once in the morning and again at night.
B-complex vitamins, when taken 1000mg three times daily, have also shown to help fight off the herpes simplex virus when taken at the first sign of symptoms.
3. Pain treatments - mild pain relievers or topical anesthetics like Chloraseptic or rubbing alcohol can can applied to reduce pain and speed healing. Ice can also be used to temporarily numb the pain.
4. Home remedies - other topical treatments from the home kitchen or medicine cabinet reported by some as effective include hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, aloe vera, cold milk, vaseline, or tea tree oil to help ease cold sore pain and speed healing.
Glycyrrhizic acid, an ingredient in licorice, is another age-old remedy for cold sores that has proven to be effective in killing off the virus. Since most modern varieties are now flavored with anise, be sure you're getting real licorice sticks or drops.
5. Sleep - getting extra rest is the body's natural way of healing itself. Sleep bolsters a weakened immune system, a major underlying cause of a herpes simplex flare-up.
6. Avoid reinfection - since toothbrushes can often harbor the virus, it's often advised that you discard your old toothbrush and buy a new one after a cold sore outbreak. To reduce the chances of an added bacterial infection, never touch or squeeze a cold sore.
Also, because cold sores are extremely contagious, avoid kissing and sharing cups, towels, or other personal items, and use a hand sanitizer or wash hands frequently to avoid infecting others.