Like any type of herpes infection, the hardest part about living with an oral herpes infection is that it’s always there. Once present in your body, the herpes virus can’t be eliminated completely — at least not yet.
So with a complete full cure out of the question, the next best thing is to learn how to prevent an outbreak of cold sores, and how to treat an outbreak quickly when cold sores do appear.
7 Ways To Prevent Cold Sores From Breaking Out
It’s really important to remember that the best methods for preventing an outbreak of cold sores are all lifestyle changes. You’ll get the strongest, most reliable results when you make a real commitment to these changes.
There’s also the genuine possibility your overall health will improve, and you’ll be a happier, more relaxed person while you minimize the frequency and severity of cold sores outbreaks – a definite win all around.
1. Change Your Diet
To prevent frequent cold sores outbreaks, you’ve got to really strengthen your immune system. And one of the best ways to do so is with a healthy, nutritious diet. This means two things: eating more of the foods that are good for you, and eliminating the foods that compromise your immune system.
Let’s start with the foods you should be limiting or eliminating from your diet. As a general rule, replace high-cholesterol foods with lower cholesterol substitutes – for example, use olive oil instead of butter, and bake or steam rather than fry when you’re cooking.
Then (take a deep breath, this one is harder) do everything you can to eliminate sugar from all the foods you eat. Sugar is responsible for a lot of health problems. But most importantly, when you’re trying to prevent cold sores outbreaks, it interferes with your body’s ability to fight off infection.
The final component for your diet is a good balance between arginine and lysine. These are both amino acids, and they’re both essential to your health.
But high levels of arginine have been linked to HSV (that’s the herpes simplex virus, or oral cold sores) outbreaks, because arginine is one of the biological factors that help the herpes virus to multiply. Lysine, on the other hand, may be an HSV suppressant. So you’ll want to weight your dietary balance in favor of lysine to keep those cold sores in check.
2. Take A Few Supplements
Support that healthy diet and give your immune system an extra boost by taking some high-quality dietary supplements on a regular basis. Start with a good multiple vitamin – that’s one that contains, at the minimum, vitamins C, A, and E, B-complex, zinc, and selenium – and take it every day.
Echinacea can also provide a boost to the immune system, as can Red Marine Algae. If you’re feeling stressed, add St. John’s Wort or kava kava to the mix. Siberian ginseng and licorice root are also really helpful with easing the effects of stress on the body; but avoid taking them for more than 3 weeks at a time.
3. Reduce Stress
Speaking of stress, you should know that there’s a clear correlation between high levels of stress and herpes outbreaks. Overproduction of adrenaline and cortisone – our stress response hormones – can suppress the body’s immune system, resulting in those unwanted cold sores.
For this reason, work to keep yourself relaxed and calm despite the everyday pressures of your life. Two of the simplest ways to achieve a calmer, more peaceful outlook over the long haul are yoga and meditation. Make the time to practice one or the other (or both) on a daily basis. Even just 30 minutes a day, if you stick with it, will have positive effects on your mindset and your immune system.
4. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Another important way to lower the physical stress you put on your body and immune system is by getting the right amount of sleep every night. Sleeping is not just what you do when you run out of other things to do! Sleep is the way we refresh and restore our bodies and minds.
When you experience a long, deep sleep, your body releases immune-boosting hormones into your circulatory system. Just a night or two of insufficient sleep can trigger an outbreak of cold sores – especially if your immune system is already compromised by a little cold or a more serious illness. Give yourself a break, and sleep for a full 8 hours every night under normal circumstances, and allow even more sleep when you’re feeling under the weather.
5. Exercise Regularly
Getting regular exercise is important for a couple of reasons. First, exercise is another great stress reducer. There’s nothing like a fierce game of tennis or a good run to work out your frustration in a positive way. In addition to fighting stress, regular exercise makes you stronger and healthier – and that goes for your immune system as well as your arms and legs.
Keep one thing in mind, though. Exercise that’s too intense won’t do you any good; and in fact, straining your muscles to the point of total exhaustion will overtax your immune system. So find a mid-level form of exercise that suits you, and practice it regularly. Good choices include swimming, qi gong, tai chi, gentle bicycling, or even just an enjoyable long walk.
6. Protect Your Lips
If you’re trying to avoid getting cold sores on your lips, it’s essential to protect them from the harmful rays of the sun all year round. Sunburn (and windburn, too) is a well-known trigger for a cold sore outbreak, and one that’s easily avoided. Make a safe lip balm that includes SPF 15 or better sun protection into a daily part of your routine.
Then develop some other safe habits, too. Contact with another person’s HSV can trigger your own cold sore outbreak, so avoid sharing bites of food, eating utensils, cosmetics, and even face towels with others.
7. Develop Positive Mental Habits
It may sound a bit “out there,” but advanced neuroscience is just beginning to prove what forward-thinking healers have known for a long time: your state of mind can affect your physical health. How does this apply to preventing outbreaks of cold sores? Simple. The more attention and energy you focus on being infected, the more stress you’ll feel. Stress takes a toll on the immune system, and presto – cold sores.
So practice techniques to keep your mind focused on the positive. Affirmations and hypnosis are a great place to start. Try something like “Every cell in my body is alive with health and vitality,” or “I sleep in peace and awake strong and healthy.” Repeat your affirmations out loud every day. It may take you a little while to get comfortable with this practice, but you’ll appreciate the effects you feel if you stick with it.
It’s also a great idea to learn to let go of negative thoughts. Practice living in the moment; experience as much joy and laughter as you can, and remember that an outbreak of cold sores, however unwelcome, is just an inconvenience and not a matter of life and death.
By keeping your mindset positive and your immune system strong and healthy, you can definitely reduce the frequency of cold sores outbreaks. In the next section, you’ll discover some great ways to treat outbreaks when they happen, so you can heal quickly and without too much discomfort.
Treating Cold Sores Outbreaks
HSV, the herpes simplex virus which causes cold sores, has the ability to lie dormant in your body for a long time without causing you any problems. But despite your best efforts to keep the virus in check, you’ll occasionally experience an outbreak of cold sores – it’s simply the nature of the beast.
While getting a cold sore isn’t the end of the world, it is painful, and it does sometimes cause people to feel uncomfortable about their appearance. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there are lots of ways to ease the pain of a cold sore, and heal it up in a hurry. Some of these strategies involve prescription medicines, some make use of over-the-counter solutions, and some treat cold sores with natural remedies. Let’s take a look at those for starters:
Natural Remedies For Cold Sores
Genuine sea salt is loaded with ocean minerals that promote healing and reduce the inflamed tissues of a cold sore. There are a couple of ways you can use the soothing power of sea salt on a cold sore.
For sores inside your mouth, make a mild solution of sea salt and slightly warm water – about a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water should be right. Then spend a few minutes swishing the solution around in your mouth.
You can apply dry sea salt directly to a cold sore on the outside of your mouth, too. Just gently press the salt onto the sore until it stays there. Leave the salt on the sore for a total of 40 minutes, then rinse it away with clean water. Either treatment can be used 3 times daily to ease pain and promote healing.
Soak a cotton ball or pad in a cup of whole milk and use it as a compress on cold sores. Remember to use a separate cotton ball for each cold sore if you have more than one! The feel of the cool milk will be soothing, and the immunoglobulins in the milk will help fight the virus.
Tea Tree (melaleuca) Oil
Tea tree oil is a well-known antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal with a lot of uses. To treat your cold sores, be sure to dilute the tea tree oil with an equal amount of water — this is a strong essential oil, and it can cause an allergic reaction if you use it undiluted on your skin.
Use the diluted tea tree oil with a cotton ball, and dab it directly onto your cold sore. It will help keep the cold sore from getting any bigger, and heal it much faster than simply letting a cold sore run its normal course.
Before you try this remedy, make sure you’ve got genuine, 100% pure vanilla extract. (Organic is even better.) Imitation vanilla doesn’t contain any of the helpful anti-inflammatories and antivirals found in real vanilla.
You can use pure vanilla directly on your cold sore – just apply it with a cotton ball to ease pain and speed healing. It’s okay to use a vanilla compress as many as 4 times a day.
Tea Bags — Especially Black Tea
Black, green, and white teas all contain tannins, which are powerful antivirals and anti-inflammatories. You’ll find the highest levels of tannins in black and green teas, which are also loaded with helpful antioxidants.
Make use of the beneficial properties of tea tannins by brewing a strong cup of tea using a black or green tea bag. Let the tea bag cool off until it’s comfortable to the touch, then apply it directly to your cold sore. For an extra boost, drink the tea while you’re applying your tea bag compress.
If you’re lucky enough to have an aloe plant growing in or near your home, just break open one of its thick leaves and apply the gel to your cold sore. Otherwise, buy some pure aloe vera gel (check the ingredients) and use it instead. Either way, there’s no need to wash it off. Just let the gel soak in and do its thing.
Aloe is great for reducing pain – many people use it for relief from sunburn – and it also has some antibacterial properties that may speed healing.
A homemade paste of cornstarch and water is a soothing night time treatment for cold sores that can also create an alkaline pH that’s unfriendly to the herpes virus. Make your paste from more or less equal parts water and cornstarch – start with a teaspoon of each and make adjustments until you’ve got a nice, smooth paste.
Apply a little bit of the paste to your cold sore at bedtime, and leave it there while you sleep. Rinse it away gently in the morning, and keep using the paste at night until your sore is healed.
Over-The-Counter Remedies For Cold Sores
Docosanol Cream (Abreva)
This is the only FDA-approved cold sore treatment you can buy without a prescription. Most of the time you’ll be able to apply it gently to a cold sore up to 5 times a day, but be sure to check the instructions included in the packaging. Docosanol is a good pain reliever, and many people report that it speeds healing as well.
A regular light application of petroleum jelly will keep your cold sore soft and and act as a shield against further bacterial infection. A well-recognized emollient, petroleum jelly keeps your skin irritation to a minimum – and reminds you not to touch or pick at a cold sore.
Witch Hazel And Rubbing Alcohol
Witch hazel is a pleasant-smelling astringent, which means it will dry out the blistery part of a cold sore, helping it to heal more quickly. Be careful, though – witch hazel can be a real irritant if you have sensitive skin, so try it out on your wrist first. If it doesn’t bother your skin, apply the witch hazel directly to your cold sore with a cotton ball.
Like witch hazel, rubbing alcohol is a powerful astringent with some added antiseptic properties. But as you probably know, alcohol can be really painful when applied to an open sore – witch hazel may be a milder solution if your skin tolerates it.
Also, keep in mind that a too-dry cold sore will crack and become seriously painful. You may want to cover your cold sore with a dab of petroleum jelly after treating it with witch hazel or rubbing alcohol to keep this from happening.
Grit your teeth and clean up a cold sore with hydrogen peroxide – it’s kind of a painful solution, but hydrogen peroxide is a great disinfectant and will really help to heal those cold sores. Apply it with a cotton ball and let it stay on the cold sore for a few minutes before rinsing the area clean. Like rubbing alcohol and witch hazel, hydrogen peroxide can be a bit drying, so keep the petroleum jelly handy.
Prescription Remedies For Cold Sores
Penciclovir Cream (Denavir)
Penciclovir is an antiviral cream available by prescription only. Apply a small amount directly to a cold sore, and be sure to use it as little or as much as your doctor recommends. The usual recommendation is to apply it every few hours for 4 days. Penciclovir will reduce the pain of cold sores and is designed to reduce healing time.
Aciclovir (Zovirax in the U.S./Acyclovir in Canada)
Aciclovir is available by doctor’s prescription as an ointment or cream for treatment of cold sores. Aciclovir cream is generally used directly on a cold sore 5 times a day for 4 days. The ointment can be applied 6 times daily for a full week. Like most topical remedies, aciclovir reduces pain and speeds healing of cold sores.
Valacyclovir Tablets (Valtrex)
Valacyclovir taken orally with a doctor’s supervision has proven to be effective at healing cold sores and reducing the frequency of future outbreaks. It works best to speed healing when you begin taking it at the first sign of a cold sore, and take it consistently at the same times of day to maintain a constant level of medication in your body. Be sure to use your entire prescription and follow your doctor’s instructions.
Famciclovir Tablets (Famvir)
The good news about famciclovir is that it treats cold sores with just one dose. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate dosage, you take it once, and that’s it. The bad news is that if your cold sores hang around, you can’t take another dose for at least 7 days. And famciclovir has some common and uncomfortable side effects, too – like headache, nausea, and diarrhea.
Cold Sores Questions & Answers
- How can I prevent passing cold sores to my partner?
- What vitamins can help prevent cold sore outbreaks?
- What kind of supplements can I take to prevent recurring cold sores?
- Can you treat cold sores with common over-the-counter anti-fungal cream?
- Does salt water help get rid of cold sores?
- How can I get rid of cold sores fast (like overnight or in about a day)?
1. How can I prevent passing cold sores to my partner?
It’s important to keep your cold sores to yourself! And it’s not difficult to do – just follow a few simple rules when you’re experiencing any stage of a cold sores outbreak:
- Don’t kiss your partner
Sorry — but this is the easiest way to give your partner a cold sore. From the time you feel a cold sore coming on to the time it’s completely healed and gone, no kissing. Period. Remember that you can spread cold sores to other parts of the body as well as lips.
- Don’t share food or eating utensils
This goes for drinking glasses, coffee cups, straws – pretty much anything you put your mouth on. If you really want to share a bite of food, let your partner take a forkful before you start eating.
- Keep your hands away from your cold sore
Cold sores are especially contagious when they’re blistered – but they’re still contagious at all the other parts of the cycle. So stop touching your cold sore, unless you’re treating it with some topical remedy. And even then, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly when you’re finished.
Recommended Reading: How Do I Tell My Partner I Have Herpes
2. What vitamins can help prevent cold sore outbreaks?
Here’s a list of common vitamins that can help to prevent cold sores outbreaks:
3. What kind of supplements can I take to prevent recurring cold sores?
The following supplements have shown some promise in preventing recurrence of cold sores:
4. Can you treat cold sores with common over-the-counter anti-fungal cream?
This is a common area of confusion. There is a type of sore that looks a lot like a cold sore and generally appears around the mouth – but it’s not caused by the herpes simplex virus. It’s called “angular cheilitis” and it’s often caused by yeast or bacterial infections. If an angular cheilitis sore is caused by yeast, it can be treated with anti-fungals. However, if your cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, then anti-fungals won’t help you.
Recommended Reading: Are All Cold Sores Really Herpes?
5. Does salt water help get rid of cold sores?
Short answer: Yes! If you have cold sores inside your mouth, then swishing warm salt water around in your mouth will definitely ease the pain and help the sores to heal more quickly. Table salt will do, but the added minerals in pure sea salt make it an even better choice. You can also apply salt directly to a cold sore on the outside of your mouth – it might sting a little bit, but it will dry up the blister and help you heal faster.
6. How can I get rid of cold sores fast (like overnight or in about a day)?
Your best bet to prevent a cold sore is as soon as you feel that telltale tingling, numb, or painful sensation. If you start treating it before you can see it, the sore might never appear. A couple of good early treatments include applying a cool, moist black tea bag or an ice pack to the area. If you have access to a prescription medication, start using it as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on.