They are unsightly. Painful. Absolutely disgusting. And socially debilitating.
Cold sores and fever blisters (collectively known as cold sores) are birthed straight from the pits of hell.
As a long-term sufferer of oral herpes (let's be really honest and frank with each other here), I know the emotional and even physical scarring that occurs with this condition.
I usually get 1-2 outbreaks a year, generally in the wintertime, when my immune system is weakened and I become sick. The fluid-filled mass has attacked the sides and middle of my upper lip, the insides of my nostril (sometimes both at the same time), extending to the outside of my nostrils, and on one most devastating occasion reached from inside my nose all the way down to my lips. A fever blister mustache, if you will.
It's embarrassing. It's depressing. You feel like a leper. And you think that others look at you with disgust. Because it IS disgusting. And on top of that, it's contagious.
But it can be managed, and there is hope.
For the last 2 years, I have been able to remain free of fever blisters and/or have them heal much more quickly, within 2-4 days.
It's Very Personal
The Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) is the culprit behind the cold sores and fever blisters that affect nearly 50 million people in the United States, according to Blistex.
The virus can come from anywhere: someone on the playground as a youth or an infected relative who kissed you, for example.
As a kid, I had a disgusting habit of drinking behind people in my house. If there was a cup of juice lying around, I would sip from it. I am sure this is how I got the virus. I practiced deplorable hygiene and was punished dutifully for it.
The virus lies dormant in your body, in your nerve cells, until some stressor awakens it. For me, it's getting sick and irritating the skin around my nose from blowing and wiping my nose. For others, it could be stress, exposure to extreme sunlight or wind, or their menstrual cycle (gasp!).
The Life of a Cold Sore
The cycle of a cold sore breakout:
- Usually an aching, irritated, or hot sensation on your skin is the telltale sign of an impending outbreak, where a slight red bump may emerge. So very slight, it looks like a pimple.
- Then that pimple multiplies into a cluster. And that cluster begins to fill with fluid, swelling and quadrupling in size, coalescing into a massive, painful blister (or into several).
- In a few days, the blister will break open on its own, allowing the virus ridden fluid to weep from the wound and dry into an unsightly yellow crust all over the blister.
- As the fluid drains, the blister will begin to deflate into an open sore which will soon scab over, leaving behind a dark shell that sits on your face until it is ready to fall off.
- And even with all of this trauma that you have endured, you are left with fresh, pink skin that takes a little less than a week to begin to return to your normal skin tone.
- On average, the cold sore healing process can last anywhere from one to 2 weeks, maybe even a month depending on how bad your scar is.
I have dealt with this process for almost 12 years now, and each time seemed more horrific than the last.
Recently, I've seen my healing process scale back from 9 days to 2-3 days, which is certainly a dream come true.
Abreva's Illustrated Cold Sore Stages
- Cold Sore Stages – Cold Sore Cycle – Abreva
There are several cold sore stages. Learn more about what they are and get a better understanding of the cold sore cycle on this page.
Treatments for Cold Sores
There are many over-the-counter medicines that are available to cold sore sufferers.
Abreva is a popular medication, one that I lived and died by during my first several years of cold sores. I believe it is effective in cutting down the healing time—but those little tubes are so expensive, nearly $20 for a 0.07 ounce tube!
You could also get a prescription for pills like Acyclovir also called Zovirax, which I haven't tried. But I would assume that the cost for these medications is fairly high, as well.
Besides the costliness of OTC medications, I became wary of chemicals in general when I began college. I looked to natural remedies for my ailments, especially for my fever blisters.
I researched why fever blisters happen, how I could treat them naturally, and how to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Diet Changes for Cold Sore Prevention
We discussed earlier how hormone changes and external factors can have an influence on outbreaks.
Through my research, I learned that L-Arginine, a conditional nonessential amino acid, can build up in your body creating a desirable environment for the dormant HSV-1 virus to awaken and thrive.
Arginine is present in wheat germ, flour, almonds, walnuts and most importantly for me, chocolate and peanut butter. At the time of this discovery, I was consuming chocolate and peanut butter on a daily basis by way of on-the-go protein bars. I immediately stopped eating so much of these foods (though they are my favorite) to decrease the amount of Arginine in my body.
So firstly, to prevent cold sores, I would look at your diet and identify any dietary triggers that you may have and work on limiting your consumption of them. I love Reese's Cups, but I hate fever blisters way more.
L-Lysine for Cold Sore Prevention
Now, just like many things in nature, everything has a complement. L-Lysine is the complementary amino acid to L-Arginine. This means that they compete for absorption in your body; therefore one can overwhelm the other. So if Arginine aggravates the HSV-1 virus, Lysine calms it back to sleep.
Lysine is an essential amino acid that functions in muscle and tissue recovery, and supports the immune system. Lysine is present in low fat milk, fruit, beef, and tuna, so it's easy to incorporate it in your diet. However, those of us who want to sedate the HSV-1 indefinitely need to have a more than adequate amount of Lysine in our system at all times.
This is where taking Lysine supplements have changed my life.
My Favorite Lysine Supplement
How To Use Lysine for Cold Sore Prevention
I buy the 1000-1500mg pills and keep them stocked in my house and on my person. When I first feel that hot, stinging sensation that tells me an outbreak is soon coming, I immediately take 4-5 Lysine pills every 3-4 hours to calm the virus. I usually average 18 pills my first day, and gauge my symptoms thereafter, maybe taking 3-6 pills per day until I am sure that I am out of the woods.
(It's important for me to state that there is no research or evidence that one can overdose on Lysine or that it is lethal at a certain level. This is why I take so much.)
Actually, the University of Maryland Medical Center supports that "during an active herpes flare up, 3,000 - 9,000 mg/day in divided doses for a short period of time" significantly improves herpes virus symptoms.
I like to hedge my bets and go for more is more. And it has worked for me for the last couple of years. You should use the amount that works best for you.
Usually after taking my pills for the first day, I see no symptoms. But when I don't take Lysine immediately (within the hour of experiencing the initial symptom), I will have a minor breakout that is less severe in pain and significantly less unsightly. It is much easier to conceal and live with during the 3 days that it takes to heal.
On these occasions, I realized that even though stuffing my self with Lysine on the first sign of a breakout helped tremendously, it was not the answer for maintaining a breakout free existence.
I had to incorporate Lysine into my daily life, just as most do with multi-vitamins, Biotin, Iron, etc. To "maintain" my Lysine levels in the body, I take 3000mg per day or every other day, alongside minimizing chocolate and peanut butter in order to deny the HSV1 an opportunity to awaken, replicate and wreak havoc on my face.
Natural Remedies for a Cold Sore Breakout
Say you haven't implemented a low Arginine-Lysine supplemented lifestyle just yet (or maybe you have), and you are unfortunately dealing with an intruding cold sore.
My go-to, all-natural remedies include: Manuka honey and coconut oil.
I use these products as a salve or ointment for budding or full-blown blisters because they help kill bacteria and heal wounds.
Manuka honey, exclusively from New Zealand, is renowned for the particular pollen the bees use to make the golden liquid. This type of honey is used in holistic medicine for people with staph infections, surgery wounds, burns, and the most disgusting kind of ailments you can think of. This honey is a terrific healing product and has most certainly helped me heal pesky fever blisters, as well as acne.
Coconut oil is packed with medium-chain tryglycerides and medium-chain fatty acids, which easily destroy pathogens, viruses, and bacteria because they can penetrate the outer covering of the villiainous organism, destroying it. If applied to a burgeoning cold sore, coconut oil can keep the blister from draining its contagious liquid, immediately working to start shrinking it.
I also keep Super Lysine+ products in my arsenal, the ointment and chapstick, alongside the honey and coconut oil. They both contain Lysine and make it possible to have the amino acid working internally as well as topically!
Lysine Rich Ointment I Always Keep Handy
Keep It Clean! Practice Hygiene
With these tips, I hope you go forth in your journey to rid yourself of these terrible occurrences. But it doesn't hurt to reiterate how important it is to practice stringent hygiene when you have a breakout because:
- You don't want to infect others (aka pass the curse).
- You don't want to reinfect yourself on another part of your body, at a later date.
So when handling your cold sore and/or treatment products:
- Always wash your hands!
- Take care to use Q-tips or paper tissue to clean the wound or apply product.
- Do not dip in to the product if its in a jar like the honey or coconut oil. Put some aside in a small container and use clean Q-tips to apply to your affected area. Use clean Q-tips to apply ointments and chapstick from their tubes as well.
- Purchase a cheap toothbrush to use for the while that you have a breakout and toss it when you have begun the scabbing stage.
- Don't use makeup brushes or makeup products directly onto your wounds. Use Q-tips or disposable applicators to apply face makeup or lipstick until your sore has scabbed over.
Here's To Healthy, Clear and Sore-free Faces!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
J on May 03, 2018:
I’ve eliminated cold sores by taking 1000 mg daily. The only time I ever get them is when I’ve forgotten to take my Lysine.
In addition to the other triggers mentioned in the article, burning your lip - with hot pizza, hot chocolate, etc - sets off a cold sore. Those who suffer should be especially careful with hot foods.
PineappleSage on March 30, 2016:
Hi there, great post for cold sore sufferers! (v relevant because according to the World Health Organization, 2/3rds of the global population are now carriers of the virus). Being a Natural Health advocate, I'm a big fan of nutritional and herbal remedies for cold sores and swear by lysine too. Another good option is Lemon Balm - in Germany, doctors prescribe the cream for Herpes. Hope this helps