Natural Remedies for Cold Sores: Do They Work?

Cold sores are clusters of blisters that usually develop on the lips, but they can sometimes develop inside the mouth, too. These sores are caused by herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1), a virus that more than half of Americans contract by the time they reach their 20s. If you're one of the many people who suffers from cold sore outbreaks, you may be curious about natural remedies for the condition.

Natural Remedies for Cold Sores

When you're experiencing a cold sore outbreak, you may want to try to treat it with natural remedies, but it's important to choose a method that works. The Mayo Clinic explains that holding a cool compress against your sores can help promote healing, as well as reduce redness and crusting. Using a lip balm that contains sun block is another way to ease cold sore discomfort.

Other natural remedies have mixed results in studies, but they may still be worth a try. For example, you may want to try applying propolis, a synthetic beeswax, to your sores since this may be able to shorten your outbreak. Creams that contain rhubarb and sage may also be helpful. The book "Fighting Multidrug Resistance With Herbal Extracts, Essential Oils and Their Components," notes that sage is less effective than rhubarb, and rhubarb was equally as effective as acyclovir, an antiviral medication.

Many online sources draw conflicting conclusions about the effectiveness of at-home and natural remedies. For example, Reader's Digest attests that applying an Earl Grey tea bag will speed the healing process, a method CNN labels as a myth. So, when you're looking up ways to heal your cold sore, take the internet's suggestions with a grain of salt.

How to Prevent Cold Sores

There are many things you can do to prevent cold sore outbreaks. Your dentist may prescribe an antiviral medication to help control the virus and keep cold sores at bay. Another option is to observe what sets off your cold sores, and then try to avoid those triggers.

For example, some people get cold sores when they're feeling stressed. If that's the case for you, try relaxing activities like yoga, meditation, massage or spending time outdoors to control your stress.

Cold sores can be triggered by sun exposure too, so if you've noticed that you get cold sores after a day at the beach or a trip to the tanning bed, avoid excess sun exposure. Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen – including on your lips – when you go outdoors, and avoid tanning.

How to Treat Cold Sores

Cold sores will usually go away by themselves within a few weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health, but there are treatments available to make you more comfortable and to speed up the healing process. In addition to proven natural remedies for cold sores like cool compresses, medications are available.

Your dentist may recommend applying a product to your sores to relieve the pain and protect your sores from further irritation. Antiviral medications are also available by prescription, and these medications help to heal your cold sores more quickly than if you left them alone.

Cold sores are uncomfortable, but they can be managed with the help of your dentist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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