Unfortunately, once infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV 1), you are subject to cold sores anytime the virus is provoked or activated.
These tips can help reduce the frequency and duration of cold sores by supporting immune health and protecting against viral infections.
What Is A Cold Sore?
A cold sore is an inflamed blister located on or near your lips and mouth. It is caused by infection due to the herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Cold sores happen when the herpes virus is somehow triggered to “wake up” and cause symptoms.
Types of HSV
There are two types of HSV. The HSV 1 virus causes infections usually in the upper body, such as cold sores on the lips. HSV 2 infections involve the lower body, typically what is known as genital herpes.
It is not uncommon for the HSV 1 virus to be spread to the lower body if fluids from a cold sore come into contact with another person’s genitals.
Conversely, the HSV 2 virus can also spread to the upper body of another person if fluids from genital blisters come into contact with the mouth, for example.
Once a person is infected, the virus remains in their body permanently, usually dormant in the nerve cells.
etigo vs. Cold Sores: What’s The Difference?
Impetigo and cold sores are both infections that cause painful sores or blisters, usually around the mouth.
However, cold sores are due to a viral infection while impetigo is caused by a bacterial infection.
Common symptoms include red, itchy sores near the mouth, nose, arms, and legs. In young children, it may appear near the diaper area.
There are three types of impetigo:
- Non-bullous: This type is characterized by small blisters that burst and crust over
- Bullus: This condition involves larger blisters that do not burst or crust over
- Ecthyma: This condition presents as ulcers with a yellow crust and red edges
If your sores contain a honey-colored crust, this may be a sign that you have impetigo and not a cold sore.
Symptoms Of A Cold Sore
You will usually feel tingling and itching around the lips, a general feeling of malaise and fever similar to body aches due to the flu (or another viral infection).
This is followed by a full outbreak in the form of painful blisters on the lip
Cold sores are very contagious. The virus spreads through saliva (such as through kissing) and other forms of close contact where the virus is transferred to another person.
Best Cold Sore Treatments
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), cold sores are a result of
Here are some remedies and treatment options:
Ointments and creams
At the first sign of tingling in your lips, apply over-the-counter ointments for cold sores. These usually have cooling ingredients like menthol, numbing agents like lidocaine or benzocaine, or antiviral compounds like docosanol.
Often, good options also provide a protective seal on your lips, keeping them moisturized so they heal more easily. Some ointments or creams also have SPF protection when you’re outdoors during the day.
You can also try a cool compress for temporary soothing and numbing relief on your lips. Be mindful not to get a cold burn when applying ice cubes.
If you’re using a cool compress cloth, make sure to wash it right away to prevent spreading the virus. Avoid touching your face, sharing utensils or towels with others, and be sure to wash your hands properly.
Avoid consuming foods that can irritate
Cold sores around the mouth are especially sensitive to irritants like spicy, oily, or acidic foods. Therefore, it’s best to avoid these foods while you have an active infection.
While you may usually be fine with these foods, when you have a cold sore, they could worsen your symptoms.
Use antiviral medication
While these infections can clear up on their own, your doctor may decide to prescribe you oral antiviral medication such as Acyclovir, Famciclovir, or Valacyclovir, especially if you’re immunocompromised.
If you fall in this category, speak to your doctor about prescription-strength anti-viral options that are suitable for you.
Rest, relax, and recover
Try healing foods and herbal-based remedies
In addition to rest, food-based remedies can help. In TCM, the snow pear (Xue Li) is a well-known ingredient for coughs and colds, specifically to help clear Heat.
“You can prepare it by steaming a bowl of sliced snow pear with some rock sugar,” suggests Physician Lee.
Having the occasional cold sore is normal. However, if the discomfort is too much to bear, seek the advice of a medical practitioner or TCM physician.
- Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2019. The Epidemiology of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 in Asia: Systematic Review, Meta-analyses, and Meta-regressions.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2019. Cold Sores.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Herpes Simplex 1
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018. Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Potential Source for HSV-1 Therapy by Acting on Virus or the Susceptibility of Host.
- Journal of Ginseng Research. 2013. Protective effects of red ginseng extract against vaginal herpes simplex virus infection.
- Journal of Ginseng Research. 2016. Ginseng, the natural effectual antiviral: Protective effects of Korean Red Ginseng against viral infection.
- Frontiers in Pharmacolpgy. 2021. The Anti-Viral and Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Edible Bird’s Nest in Influenza and Coronavirus Infections: From Pre-Clinical to Potential Clinical Application.
- Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2007. Herbal mixtures containing the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum improve recovery time in patients with herpes genitalis and labialis.
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