Do’s and Don’ts for fighting cold sores

You know the signs, that tell-tale little tingling sensation that signals you’re in for a real treat, a cold sore is on the way. Zovirax and Abreva are widely used as a first line of defence and can be successful at keeping cold sores at bay, but need to be applied at the tingling stage. Not so useful if they appear in the morning as most of mine do. When you wake at night to that itching niggling feeling do you always leap out of bed and hunt for the cold sore cream? No, you don’t, you roll over and go back to sleep and pray for a miracle.

When you wake up the next day with the beginnings of one of these little lovelies you know it’s time to take action. Once a cold sore has erupted and begun its blistery miserable life it’s no fun at all and they can be really painful, but there are lots of things you can do to shorten its life span, and to prevent them coming back.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and once contracted can lie dormant in nerve cells for years. Triggers include being run down, getting stressed, menstrual cycle, exposure to direct sunlight and even certain foods. There is no cure for cold sores. If you’ve had one, chances are you’ll get them again, but there are loads of natural remedies and actions you can take to minimise attacks.

Here are my Do’s and Don’ts for surviving, minimising and banishing those cold sores for good!

Do’s

  • Eat food that’s rich in Lysine e.g. Dairy products, potatoes, legumes (peas, lentils, beans) meat (specifically red meat, pork, and poultry), cheese (particularly parmesan), certain fish (such as cod and sardines), nuts, eggs, soyabeans (particularly tofu, isolated soy protein, and defatted soyabean flour), spirulina, and fenugreek seed and brewer’s yeast all contain lysine.
  • Take L-Lysine supplements – This amino acid supplement hinders the growth of the virus so can really aid healing and stop spreading.
  • Use a separate towel and face cloth – For the simple reason that cold sores spread so easily, if you or anyone else in the family has a cold sore, make sure everyone else knows not to use their towel to prevent contamination.
  • Use an anaesthetic ointment to numb – It will help to alleviate the pain if you have a particularly bad bout
  • Take painkillers – They will just take the edge off the pain of your cold sore.
  • Get lots of rest – One of the key triggers is being run down so make sure you get good and regular sleep. Cold sores don’t like that!
  • Take vitamin supplements – Vitamin supplements such as zinc, vitamin E, B to help heal your skin.
  • Boost your immune system – Take Echinacea or other immune boosting supplements to help knock cold sore attacks on the head
  • Keep it moisturised – Simple vaseline or petroleum jelly will do the trick, but there are loads of cold sore and chapped lip creams. Keeping your cold sore moisturised will aid healing, but make sure you always wash your hands after application
  • Get plenty of exercise – Exercise bolsters the immune system so don’t hide away. Get out there and get some fresh air; it’s a really effective way to fight off stress.
  • Try a cold pack – Ice can help dull the pain so try a cold pack or compress to numb the discomfort.
  • Learn to combat and cope with stress – Try yoga, pilates or meditation as great stress busters to keep you on an even keel.
  • Protect your lips – Make sure you wear a good sun-screen lip balm in direct sunlight as this can trigger cold sores. In winter make sure you keep lips moist, use a lip balm. If lips do become chapped or sore it can be easier for the virus to take hold. Healthy lips will be less prone as they skin is stronger and more supple.

Don’ts

  • Eat foods rich in Arginine e.g. Chocolate, Cola, beer and peanuts
  • Eat salty acidic food – Crisps, lemon and similar foods will aggravate your cold sore.
  • Kiss or perform oral sex – Cold sores are extremely easy to spread and pass on through physical contact so don’t feel tempted.
  • Touch, scratch or pick it – Physical contact with these little blighters can encourage them to spread very easily so when you do treat it, wash your hands and then avoid contact.
  • Get it wet! – Cold sore scabs can be very fragile, so avoid licking it or getting it wet if you can. Don’t go swimming and try to keep it out of the water when you shower. This is almost impossible to acheive and is very frustrating.
  • Let it get you down – Cold sores can be really painful and miserable, so take it easy and be kind to yourself. Ignore them and pretend they aren’t there!
  • Wear make-up Avoid using lipstick as you could contaminate it with the virus.
  • Keep your toothbrush in the bathroom – Moisture prolongs the life of the cold sore virus to make sure you dry it out, keep it in the bedroom instead so any virus cells won’t survive and spread back onto your lips before it’s fully healed.

Herstat propolis cold sore care

Herstat propolis cold sore care


It’s good to see far more Do’s than Don’ts here, and as if that’s not enough for you to be going on with, here are some other natural remedies that I’ve gleaned from friends, family and fellow cold sore sufferers.

  • Zovirax - Available in most chemists this is the first line of defence when you feel tingling. It contains aciclovir which helps prevent the cold sore taking hold. Boots, Lloyds and other pharmacies often do their own brand which is much cheaper than Zovirax. Careful when you open these little tubes as you can end up with the half the contents spewing out when you only want a tiny bit. Abreva is also widely used to treat cold sores.
  • Propolis – Use a propolis based cold sore remedy such as Herstat, regular users report much faster healing and a reduction in pain. It tastes almost good enough to eat too.
  • Toothpaste – Dab some directly onto the cold sore. It dries them out!
  • Witch Hazel – Using cotton wool dab some onto the cold sore. Witch Hazel has natural healing qualities.
  • Corsodyl gel – Also available at the chemists. Not tried this one out yet.
  • Whisky – I didn’t discover whether this remedy involved application to the cold sore or drinking, or perhaps both. I’ll leave that up to you…
  • Colloidal Silver – Can also be dabbed onto the cold sore to aid healing. You can get this in most health food shops in liquid form and you can keep it in the fridge.
  • Eue de toillete – The alcohol dries up the cold sore but also stings!
  • Licorice – Make sure it’s real licorice and not flavoured.
  • Milk – Soak cotton wool in milk and dab onto the cold sore

Cold sores can also be triggered by food allergies so if you do keep getting recurrent cold sores start a food and symptoms diary and try to pin point what foods are causing it.

What are your cold sore remedies? What works for you to banish these little horrors? I usually give mine a name like Colin or Clary – bring in a bit of humour. Let em know I’m not bovvered. It usually does the trick!

Buy cold sore treatments online

If you want to see what LLysine looks like or check the names of cold sore treatments mentioned here, and even buy them online, visit the Buy Allergy Stuff page for some ideas.

Other cold sore blogs

There are about ten blogs here about cold sores. To see them all visit What allergy blogs about cold sores

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.

Comments

  1. Jasmine says:

    Okay so I’ve had cold sores my whole life. I’m sixteen now. Ive been lucky the past two or so years and haven’t seen any on me. But the other day at work, I felt it. The miserable tingling in the corner of my mouth. I thought I was going to die. When I got home I put my special medicated chap stick on and that actually helped. The next day it was dried out and just scabed. But that night at work, I felt it again. And this time I thought nothing of it thinking I could just do the same thing when I got home. That was my mistake. When I got hone my whole bottom lip was swollen out of control and I had a huge nasty bugger in the very middle surrounded by little ones. I’ve tired the chap stick, ice, and I even pop and drained them and washed it. The problem is that it seems to have gotten bigger. I didn’t know not to eat peanuts and chocolate. You can guess what I’ve been eating to make me feel better… Now that I’ve read this I’m worried. Is there anything else to do?

    • Zap it with neat tea tree, propolis ointment if you can get some, take some Llysine capsules, echinacea. Early night. Once you have a blister it is hard to get rid of them. I find holding a dry tea bag on the sore helps. Rooibosh or earl grey if you have it. if not any will do. It kind of drys it out quicker. You will feel weird holding a tea bag on your lip but it works for me, just remember to chuck out after – don’t make tea with it!

  2. I dab a drop of tea tree oil on the itchy sport every few hours and usually it won’t even surface. :)

  3. cold sore on corner of mouth says:

    Thanks for sharing informative article about cold sores, I wonder if cucumber is effective home remedy for this matter, because some of my friends told me it’s effective.

  4. I just wanted to comment, on your list of Do’s you have petroleum jelly listed for keeping it moist. I don’t know about anyone else but for me petroleum jelly causes cold sores. I don’t mean it makes them worse or spreads them, but I can be free from sores for months and something with petroleum jelly touches my skin and “bam” I get a sore the next day. I actually experimented with this cause I wasn’t sure what was causing it and I finally figured it out.

    If there are any out there like me you might want to put a sub-note or something in, just in case.

    • WOW, yes anything could trigger a cold sore. It could be that the petroleum jelly is contaminated? Just a thought, but I know certain foods and drinking alcohol can trigger them for me so anything is possible. Anyone else get cold sores triggered by petroleum jelly? When you think about it’s not a very nice product – you wouldn’t put petrol on your lips would you? urgh no. So why do we even use petroleum jelly which is made from a waste by product from industry? Gross!

  5. annonymous says:

    Usually when I catch them are in the blister stage…. I sterilize a pin or something with a sharp point pop them clean the clear goo then apply Abreva they usually dry up in 7 to 8 hours then scab of if more blisters acure I pop immediately and they usually go away with in a day or 2

    • Sounds like a successful treatment. I just use propolis from Herstat at the first sign of tingling and now they don’t even appear. If I miss the tingling and do get one I use a combination of neat tea tree oil and propolis to soothe and heal and they usually miraculously never actually grow into proper nasty cold sores. A few days and only a slight blemish or red area to show. I also use Aloe vera if I ever do get a scab as it forms a seal over the sore and helps heal.

  6. I’m now 18 and I’ve had cold sores since elementary school. Over the past few years I’ve developed a way that works EXTREMELY well for me, and I can usually make my cold sores disappear in a day or two.
    1.) Immediately after you feel a cold sore coming along (a small pain in your lip, a little bump, an itch on your lip) put a cold sore ointment on the spot (I use Abreva)–whether or not it truly is a cold sore, this is prevention from a cold sore, or prevention from having the cold sore get really big!
    2.) If the cold sore gets bigger, and is now filled with liquid–I know this sounds scary, but trust me it works–get a sewing needle, clean it with alcohol, clean your cold sore with alcohol and wash your hands. Pop the cold sore. Don’t put the needle directly into it, rather pop it by putting the needle through the first layer of skin parallel to your face, not sticking it straight in. **tighten your lips together so the liquid comes out** clean cold sore with alcohol again.
    3.) After popping the cold sore the rest of the care is VERY IMPORTANT. Immediately put Neosporin on the popped cold sore. If it feels painful, hold an ice cube to the cold sore for a while, then put Neosporin on it. Continue to apply Neosporin to the cold sore for the rest of the day after you popped it. Apply cold sore ointment (I use Abreva) to the area once or twice a day, as well as the Neosporin throughout the day. Another great combination to apply to the popped cold sore is a combination of Vaseline and a few drops of tea tree oil mixed together. This helps to heal the cold sore faster! Apply Neosporin and the tea tree oil mixture throughout the day to ensure fastest healing time!

    The morning after you popped the cold sore, there should no longer be any liquid (cold sore virus) inside the bump, but your lip may still feel sore and will be slightly raised and still slightly red. THIS IS NORMAL! It should continue to lessen in swelling, redness and pain.

    When you don’t have cold sores, I suggest regularly using CARMEX lip Vaseline for Cold Sores, as a preventative procedure.

    I know that popping the cold sore sounds scary!! As long as you clean the site of the cold sore and your needle is clean and new–you will be fine. I’ve been doing this process to my cold sores for almost five years now (Tea Tree Oil being the most recent addition, and it works very well). My cold sores are almost always gone within two days of the FIRST feeling of one coming.

    Let me know if this works for you! Hope it helps.

    • Great advice from a fellow cold sore expert here. I find often that they get ‘broken’ anyway, especially once they’ve blistered. I have never actually got a needle and popped one before so if I get another I think I’ll try it just in the interest of science. Ha Ha. I did this with trying crushed garlic on a cold sore once – be warned – this is s horrible thing to do, I had the MOST horrendous cold sore after trying that.

  7. never, ever, ever pop it!

  8. I agree – only a mad man would pop a cold sore. If you pop it could spread the virus so best to leave to heal. HOwever I have heard that some people pop theirs and swear it heals quicker… who knows. I guess we are all different. I don’t pop mine.

  9. Hi Ruth

    Do you know if I should still treat the cold sore during starting to scab phase with OTC cream?
    Thank you in advance for any suggestionss

  10. If you pop them just when they are tiny little bumps then never get to the big blister phase. It may cause them to spread but tiny bumps make for much smaller sores versus the huge blisters that you can get when you don’t pop them. Plus they can spread with out being popped, as a kid I would literally have my entire mouth covered in sores.

  11. YES treat it. I find Propolis really stops pain and aids healing. I used Herstat. Anything though like tea tree, aloe vera etc. that is healing will help. I think so anyway.

  12. hi thanks Ruth!
    I had to take four days off during the worst blister stage
    Tried lysine pill, vitamin B, lysine cream, abreva (put in on day 1 right after work) Found the lysine cream helped better
    Took one week to get better. Day ten now it’s a red spot and hope to look better next week
    Mine was due to stress and lack of sleep (overwork) :(
    Felt ugly and embrassed at work

  13. I have never actively popped one, ever, but I do get them elsewhere on my body, the same virus. Sometimes on my legs, torso or arms. Because I have eczema sometimes I do scratch them, by mistake, which is horrible because they hurt. But sometimes if the blister is destroyed early on by my scratching, and I then put on tea tree oil or whatever to heal it they never get that big. So I’m bursting them but not on purpose. Just had a nasty crop on the back of my neck which has taken AGES to go away. Blumin things. Generally the tea tree and propolis keep cold sores away for me, but if I wake up with one it’s annoying – once they’re established you have to just keep attacking with whatever you can and as often to reduce their life.

  14. Aspen Mooring says:

    what if I had a cold sore scab But It started to peel off and it bleeded but i washed it completley with a clean towel and stopped the bleeding now it just looks kind of redish color Should i put neosporin on it or abreva still or will another scab form over or ?

  15. It will scab again but cold sores are notoriously fragile so it might get knocked again. I put a layer of 99% aloe vera gel on mine when they are at this stage. means it’s healing if it bleeds. they can bleed quite a lot sometimes.

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  1. […] just a really quick blog post about cold sores. I keep getting asked on my original cold sore blog, “The Do’s and Don’ts of cold sores”, ‘should I pop a cold […]

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