Home-remedy treatments for cold sores (fever blisters) -
There are a number of home-remedy approaches that can be used to help to treat, manage and/or prevent cold sores (fever blisters).
Keep in mind that while some of these solutions are supported by scientific evidence, the use of over-the-counter products, and especially prescription antiviral medications, may be more effective, convenient or practical to use.
A) Home-remedy treatments for cold sores.
1) Try treating your sore with honey.
The study's findings were that the honey treatment performed better. Specifically: "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 when the prescription item was used.
2) 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 lowers the temperature of the tissue where the lesion is forming. This temperature reduction lowers the area's metabolic rate, which in turn helps 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.
Herpes virus particles (virions).
3) Put a tea bag on the area where a cold sore is forming.
Tea contains tannic acid, a compound that's been demonstrated to to have an inhibitory effect on the herpes virus. Studies have shown that its effect can help to stunt the formation of cold sores (as determined by lesion size) (Rodu 1991). Some over-the-counter medications contain tannic acid (i.e. Tanac®).
Place a moistened tea bag (regular black tea, like that used to brew ice tea) in the area where the first signs (Tingle stage) of fever blister formation have appeared. Apply the bag for a few minutes every hour.
4) Soften scabs with petroleum jelly.
A moisturizing compound like petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) can be applied to cold sore scabs. Doing so helps to moisturize and soften them so they are less likely to crack and bleed.
B) Treating / preventing cold sores using 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.
As we explain below however, despite the 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.
1) 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) to perform 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 is one where the arginine deficit inhibits normal herpes virus function, to the point where cold sores occur less frequently or those that do form are less severe.
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 in fact 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 act of taking lysine supplements is effective in reducing both the frequency, and the duration and severity, of cold sores.
The research that has been published on this topic has been mixed. Studies do seem to suggest that lysine supplements may help to reduce the frequency of fever blister breakouts. But not necessarily that the duration and severity of those cold sores that do form is reduced.
2) Lysine/Cold sores research.
Tomblin & Lucas (2001) performed a literature review that evaluated seven (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) research studies that had investigated the use of l-lysine in treating cold sores. These studies had been conducted between the years 1978 and 1997.
(Our March 2015 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 that time period. Clearly, this topic doesn't seem to be a hotbed of scientific study.)
The findings of the 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 sores.
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).
3) 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. We should mention:
- The FDA has not approved lysine for the treatment of cold sores.
- No professional organization has stepped forward and made a recommendation in regards to this treatment approach or an appropriate dosing level.
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.
L-lysine therapy should only be started after getting a recommendation from your health care provider first. Contraindications associated with the user's current health status (including renal and hepatic disease) exist. As does the potential for side effects and interactions with other medications.
4) An alternative approach based on the same arginine / lysine theory.
Instead of taking lysine supplements, a person might simply adjust their diet. The idea would be to reduce the intake of arginine-rich foods and increase the consumption of those high in lysine, during those time frames when experiencing a cold sore outbreak is most likely.
Arginine rich foods - (foods to avoid) - 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).
Lysine rich foods - (eat more of these) - Red meats, fish and dairy products.
C) 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 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 lip injury 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 are sometimes 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.)
Aloe-vera balm applied 3 times a day to the scabbed area may help to prevent secondary infection, moisturize the scab and enhance healing.
Always wash your hands after treating a cold sore.
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. That means that after you have applied any type of treatment you should always properly dispose of any applicator or item that has come into contact with your sore and wash your hands.
Full menu for topic Cold Sores -
- Cold sore basics.
- Assorted FYI facts about cold sores.