If you’ve ever gotten a cold sore, we understand just how annoying it can be.
These small bumps and lesions in and around the mouth cause a lot of pain and discomfort, not to mention an unpleasant sight to look at too.
While most cold sores go away on their own in time, you might want to do everything you can to aid them in their healing process.
In many cases, you can use some home precautions and remedies to soothe your cold sores.
In this article, we’ll explore what cold sores are and look at their main causes.
We’ll also discuss common home remedies for cold sores to help in your recovery.
What Are Cold Sores?
Also known as fever blisters or oral herpes, cold sores affect billions of people worldwide and are extremely common.
These small, painful blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) appear on the lips and mouth and can sometimes spread to the nose, chin, and the rest of the face.
In a majority of cases, cold sores subside within a few days.
However, while they are there, it can be uncomfortable having blisters on your face, and they can also be quite painful and uncomfortable.
Once a person has contracted a herpes simplex virus, it remains in their body for life.
This is why cold sores can appear and reappear at different times throughout a person’s life, and there is no actual cure for it.
While a virus causes cold sores, you can contract it and spread it to others by:
- Sharing personal items: Like most viruses, cold sores of herpes virus strains can pass from person to person when certain personal objects are shared, especially those that come in contact with bodily fluids like saliva, urine, and blood. Items include towels, cutlery, toothbrushes, razor, and lip balm, among others. Maintaining good and clean personal hygiene and avoiding sharing objects with others is important. If you must share some items, ensure that they are sanitized thoroughly between uses.
- Sexual or intimate activity: Kissing, oral sex, anal sex, and other forms of sexual or intimate activity can cause the spread of any virus, including herpes strains that cause cold sores. If you think you have contracted a virus, avoid sexual activity till you recover or use a barrier form of protection.
- Close contact: If you do not wash your hands or touch someone who has not washed their hands and who has the virus, then it can spread through touching as well. If you or someone you know is not feeling well, it is important to isolate yourself to avoid spreading whatever it is. If you must make contact with others, avoid touching them, wear a mask over your nose and mouth and wash your hands and face immediately after the meeting.
- Re-triggering of a dormant cold sore outbreak: Since the virus that causes cold sores remains in your body for life, an outbreak can be triggered at any time. Some people get these blisters in extremely cold or hot temperatures or even dry or humid climates. It will depend on what your body finds triggering. Some can get cold sores just before or during their menstruation cycle due to hormones. Too much stress and anxiety or other ailments in your body can also trigger your cold sores to activate.
Home Remedies For Cold Sores
While you cannot cure a cold sore, there are plenty of ways you can soothe the pain and aid its recovery process at home.
These at-home treatments can relieve symptoms, shorten the duration of the cold sore outbreak, and help alleviate visible signs of the blisters around your mouth:
- Lemon balm: Lip balms with lemon extract seem to have antiviral properties that help speed up the healing process of cold sores. While lemon juice has the most antibacterial properties, it will most likely sting the blisters and worsen your pain, so try to avoid anything sour or anything with too much lemon in it. Look for lip balm with about 1% lemon in it to help soothe the cold sore.
- Tea bags: An alternative to lemon balm is lemon tea bags that are moist, cool, and soft. Gently place the tea bags on your lips like a cool compress, and it may help soothe any inflammation in the area.
- Ice: This is another great way to soothe the area and offer relief from stinging pain. Ice also helps reduce any swelling, soreness and redness caused by cold sores. Don’t press ice into your skin too harshly and don’t leave it on for too long. Rub it gently to soothe the area, and you may choose to alternate with a cool pack as well (make sure the cold pack is sanitized if it is a reusable one).
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is known to be a good natural healer and soother for various skin ailments. Applying it as a natural plant extract or as a gel on the cold sores could help relieve any swelling and aid in its healing. Aloe vera is commonly used to treat skin burns, so it may help cold sore blisters heal as well.
- Sunscreen: Wearing sunscreen every day is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays and keep you safe from a cold sore outbreak if heat is one of your triggers. There are also many lip balms with SPF or 30 or higher that will protect your lips from a cold sore outbreak.
- Stress reduction: Some people’s cold sores get triggered when their body is stressed. Your mental health, anxiety, and stress levels greatly affect your body’s immune system. When you are stressed, you might not be eating well and might not be getting enough sleep as well, causing even more damage to your immune system. When this is compromised, a dormant herpes virus can come alive in the form of cold sores.
Find ways to reduce or manage stress in your life through lifestyle changes, diet, exercise, and medication after speaking to a healthcare professional.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Over-the-counter pain relievers will help manage your pain and give you relief as your cold sore heals.
- Over-the-counter antiviral medication: While some antiviral medications are available over-the-counter, you should always ask a medical provider for advice before taking any medication or drug.
- Petroleum jelly: Some people find that applying a layer of petroleum jelly helps soften the skin around the cold sores and also creates a protective barrier on the wound so it heals with a smaller risk of infection.
While these home remedies will help you manage the pain and symptoms of cold sores, none will cure or eliminate the herpes virus that causes it.
Avoid touching your cold sores and if you must touch them, do so only with clean hands.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Most cold sores will disappear within a few days. They can stay longer if your triggers are severe and if they give you other symptoms.
If the pain is unbearable, you can take some over-the-counter pain relievers to help with pain management or ask your healthcare provider for a prescription.
If the cold sore starts spreading to more areas, you may need to consult a medical expert for advice.
Those with a weakened immune system or who are suffering from other chronic illnesses should reach out to a medical professional for advice on swiftly treating your cold sores before they become worse.
If you have trouble breathing, swallowing, or cannot concentrate, call 911 or visit the emergency room immediately.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a clinician in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Massive proportion of world’s population are living with herpes infection. (2020).
Herpes simplex virus. (2022).
Can cold sores be prevented? (2021).