Waking up to a big, red blister on your lip is probably the last way you’d want to start your day. Because cold sores aren’t exactly easy to hide, having one can make you feel very much alone. While not fun in the slightest bit, they’re actually a lot more common than you’d think. Somewhere around 90 percent of us will have at least one cold sore in our lifetime, with 40 percent of us suffering from recurrent cold sores. They’re so prevalent because they spread from person to person very easily.
Besides being extremely contagious, cold sores can be painful, uncomfortable and utterly embarrassing. We talked to clinical aesthetician Jennifer Gerace at Jason Emer, MD in Beverly Hills to learn a bit more about these blisters and get tips on how to get rid of a cold sore, fast.
1. What causes cold sores?
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). “This virus is passed from person to person by saliva (either directly or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by direct skin contact,” says Gerace. Cold sores can be obvious or ambiguous but usually appear as clusters of tiny blisters on the lip. “These blisters can start as small red patches that are itchy, or you can experience the same symptoms as a cold sore without any skin changes,” Gerace explains. The HSV virus lives in your nervous system and is dormant the majority of the time. However, certain triggers can bring it out of its dormancy. These triggers include sunlight, extreme temperatures, stress, menstruation and injury to the skin (such as a chemical peel, microneedling, a facial or lasers).
2. What’s the fastest way to get rid of a cold sore?
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get rid of a cold sore overnight. They will usually go away by themselves within two or three weeks. However, you may be able to shorten that time (and ease your discomfort) through medical or natural treatments. Gerace says antiviral medications such as Zovirax, Famvir, Valtrex and Abreva are standard when it comes to treating cold sores. “Antiviral drugs work best when you start taking them early, even before blisters develop.” If using medication doesn’t appeal to you, you may be able to find relief through over-the-counter topical treatments (more on those below).
3. What ingredients should you look for in OTC products?
One ingredient, in particular, to look out for when scanning for treatments is lysine. “One of the best vitamins for cold sores, lysine suppresses arginine, an element that helps viral cells reproduce,” says Gerace. “Thus, taking lysine internally or in the form of a topical ointment can be helpful in reducing herpes simplex cell production.” Gerace also mentions specific foods you can eat that are rich in lysine like wild-caught fish, chicken, beans, brewer’s yeast, mung bean sprouts and most fruits and vegetables.
Other options include supplementing with vitamin E to soothe skin, relieve pain and discomfort and repair damaged skin. Additionally, peppermint oil has natural, antiviral properties to aid in healing, and is said to be a great natural alternative to medicated treatments.
4. Can you prevent cold sores?
Eating immune-boosting foods like yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kimchi and sauerkraut strengthens the immune system naturally. These foods are rich in probiotics, which are essential components when it comes to maintaining your immunity. Taking a vitamin C supplement or consuming foods that are rich in vitamin C also supports the immune system by keeping your cells healthy. You can also take a lysine supplement regularly and apply sunscreen to keep HSV from rearing its ugly head. Other than supplementing and eating an immune-boosting diet, keeping your stress level down is crucial to cold sore prevention.
5. When should you see a doctor about a cold sore?
If you are experiencing repetitive cold sore outbreaks, a physician will be able to prescribe you antiviral medication to ease these episodes. Although there are many natural ways to treat and prevent cold sores, stress, hormonal changes and illness can wake up the virus, resulting in those troublesome fever blisters.