Cold sores / Fever blisters - Home-remedy cures.
There are a number of home remedies that can be used to treat, and even help to prevent, cold sores.
Most of them involve applying the remedy directly to the sore (such as ice, honey or a tea bag). However, one approach involves taking oral supplements (lysine).
Keep in mind that while some of the home remedy "cures" listed on this page are supported by scientific evidence, many over-the-counter products, and especially prescription antiviral medications, may be more effective, or at least more convenient (or practical) to use.
A) Home-remedy treatments for cold sores.
» Try treating your sore with honey.
A research study (Al-Waili, 2004) tested the application of honey to fever blisters, as opposed to acyclovir cream (a prescription antiviral medication). The study's findings were that the honey treatment performed better ("the mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 35%, 39%, 28% and 43% better" than with the acyclovir).
» Apply an ice cube.
The benefit of ice treatment as a cure for fever blisters is thought to be twofold.
- Applying ice (for five to ten minutes each hour) during the Tingle stage of cold sore formation will lower the temperature of the tissues where the lesion is forming. This temperature reduction will have the effect of reducing the area's metabolic rate, which, in turn, will help to stunt the cold sore's development.
- Intermittent application of ice to a cold sore can act as a numbing agent. This can help to alleviate symptoms such as pain, burning or itching.
» Put a tea bag on the area where a cold sore is forming.
Tea contains tannic acid, a compound that's suggested to have antiviral properties and therefore help to stunt the formation of cold sores (as determined by lesion size, Rodu, 1991). Some over-the-counter medications contain tannic acid. (Tanac ®).
Placing a tea bag in the area where the first signs of fever blister formation have appeared may help to minimize the extent to which the sore will form. Position the moistened tea bag (regular black tea, like that used to brew ice tea) on the area where the cold sore is forming for a few minutes every hour.
» Soften scabs with petroleum jelly.
B) Treating / preventing cold sores: Lysine oral supplements.
L-lysine dietary supplements are frequently promoted as a do-it-yourself therapy that can help to:
- Minimize your frequency of cold sore (fever blister) outbreaks.
- Lessen the duration or severity of those outbreaks that do occur.
However, despite the widespread popularity of this advice (which is most notably touted by companies that sell lysine products) this treatment approach is only partially supported by medical research.
The basis of this treatment theory: The lysine/herpes virus relationship.
The theory associated with the use of lysine in treating fever blisters / cold sores is typically this:
- The herpes virus requires arginine (an amino acid) for certain vital functions such as protein synthesis and replication.
- Since lysine (another amino acid) and arginine share (and therefore compete for) common pathways when being transported throughout the body, an increased intake of lysine results in a comparatively smaller amount of arginine being available to the herpes virus for use.
- The net effect of this arginine deficit is that it creates an inhibitory effect on the normal formation cold sores.
How do the facts of this theory stack up?
A) To the credit of this theory, there is evidence that arginine is a requirement for proper herpes virus replication and that proteins synthesized by the herpes virus do contain more arginine and less lysine than those proteins synthesized by the host cells they live in.
B) What's not so clear cut is that the simple act of taking lysine supplements is effective in reducing the both the frequency and the duration and severity of cold sores. The research that has been published regarding this topic has been mixed. Studies seem to suggest that lysine supplements may help to reduce the frequency of fever blister outbreaks but they likely aren't effective in reducing the duration and severity of those outbreaks that do take place.
What does research into the use of L-lysine to treat cold sores show?
Tomblin & Lucas (2001) performed a literature review that evaluated seven (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) research studies that had investigated the use of lysine in treating cold sores. These studies had been conducted between the years 1978 and 1997. (Our January 2011 search of the National Institute of Health's PubMed database using the keywords "lysine herpes labialis cold sores fever blisters" suggests that no similar studies have been published since then.)
The findings of this review were:
- Six out of the seven studies did show evidence that taking oral lysine supplements could be effective in decreasing the frequency of fever blister outbreaks.
- Only two of the studies showed evidence that taking lysine decreased the severity or duration of cold sore outbreaks.
So to recap, it seems that published research suggests that taking oral lysine supplements may be effective in helping to reduce (but not totally prevent) the occurrence of fever blister outbreaks. But it fails to confirm that this therapy has a treatment effect on those sores that do form (does not lessen symptoms or reduce healing time).
Should you take lysine supplements?
You'll have to decide, hopefully together with your health care provider, if taking lysine supplements is the right approach for you. Please keep in mind that the studies mentioned above are only evaluations of a treatment approach. And while collectively they do seem to suggest that taking oral lysine supplements may have merit, this therapy this should still be considered to be an unproven treatment.
We will mention:
1) The FDA has not approved lysine for the treatment of cold sores.
2) No professional organization has stepped forward and made a recommendation in regards to this treatment approach or an appropriate dosing level (like the American dental Association has with fluoride supplements).
Dosing: If you're considering taking lysine supplements, be smart about it.
In the studies mentioned above, the most common dosing of lysine (L-lysine monohydrochloride) lay in the range of 1000 to 1200 mg per day, typically broken up into two or three individual doses taken throughout the day. One study, however, utilized a significantly higher daily dose.
While you may decide that L-lysine fever blister therapy is an approach you would like to try, let us remind you that it's best that supplements are only taken in response to a recommendation by your health care professional. Contraindications associated with a person's current health status (including renal and hepatic disease) exist. As do the potential for side effects and interactions with other medications.
An alternative treatment approach based on the same arginine / lysine theory.
In lieu of taking lysine supplements, a person might take the approach where they adjust their diet and reduce their intake of foods that are comparatively high in arginine content during those time frames when they are most likely to experience a fever blister outbreak. Nuts, seeds and some types of beans (peanuts, almonds, sunflower seed kernels, walnuts, hazelnuts, lentils, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, flax seeds, kidney beans, soy beans) are especially rich in arginine content and could be easily avoided or substituted during at-risk times.
C) Other simple home-remedy preventives.
Here are a few simple things that you can do that should help to minimize the number of cold sore outbreaks you experience.
- Since exposure to light (especially ultraviolet light) can trigger cold sores, when outside you should shield your face from the sun with a hat. Also, when outside or when using a tanning bed or booth, apply a lip balm that contains a sun screen having a SPF value of 15 or more.
- Since injury to your lips can trigger cold sores, minimize the potential for lip damage caused by chapping by applying a moisturizing lip balm.
D) Herbal remedies.
The herbal antiseptics Sage and Tea Tree Oil and also the herbal sedative Violet have been suggested as being useful in treating cold sores. (Please remember that herbal compounds must be used appropriately. You should always discuss your plans with your health care professional before initiating any type of treatment.)
Take precaution when treating your cold sores. The herpes virus is contagious!
If you're not careful when you're treating your sores, you can spread the herpes virus to others, or even other parts of your own body.
Remember, each of the stages of cold sore formation and healing must be considered to be contagious. This means that after you have applied any type of treatment you should always properly dispose of any applicator that has come into contact with your sore and wash your hands.