Cold Sore Manual: Prevention and Treatments
You know that scene in Transformers where Shia LaBeouf is riding across town on his bike chasing after the car that has driven off without him, and he calls the police to report it and he says ‘I need help, I need all units, the whole squadron!’ and the operator doesn’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation and thinks he’s kinda crazy? Well, that’s basically a re-enactment of what happens in my house when I get that cold sore tingle…
As soon as I get that first, all too familiar sign, I race around gathering ice cubes and looking for a tube of Tea Tree Cold Sore Cream, and searching for those darn Lysine tablets that I intended to take regularly but totally forgot about and now I need to swallow a fistful of them* (*do not do this, that is not a recommendation – always only take the recommended dosage), all while my family look on not really understanding the urgency of the situation. The necessity of a time-sensitive action plan is something that only someone who suffers from cold sores will appreciate.
We’ve all heard the saying that prevention is better than cure but sometimes those sneaky little buggers just slip right in (and always at the worst possible time, right!?) so here are my top tips for both reducing your cold sore frequency, but also their severity. I used to suffer from them massively, sometimes I would have three in a month, in a ‘good’ year I might have gotten away with only having six. I kept a record of when I got them to try and figure out if there was any rhyme or reason to when they would occur but I didn’t find anything definitive. They can be triggered by extreme temperatures (summer heat or cold, windy winter), weak immunes system, hormone fluctuations, other illnesses and even stress, all of which are mostly unavoidable so here are the practical ways that I have implemented that dramatically reduced my cold sore occurrences, and how I ‘fix’ them when they do get through.
- Lysine Tablets:
Regularly and consistently. Lysine is an amino acid that helps to slow down and prevent the growth of a cold sore. It can be found naturally through food sources (such as red meat, poultry, eggs, sardines and soybeans) but supplements guarantee that you’re getting enough of it to have an effect if you’re a sufferer of cold sores.
- Go Gentle:
Avoid abrasive lip scrubs and really drying lipsticks. Dry lips are more vulnerable to a cold sore outbreak than lips with a healthy skin barrier so having dehydrated or chapped lips is something to avoid. I do find that if my lips do get really dry and cracked it’s best to use light, thin lip products rather than slathering on thick balms because sometimes that can trigger a cold sore too.
- Impact Trauma:
I think we’ve all been there, you’re watching tv while you’re eating dinner and not really concentrating on what you’re doing and bam, you slam your fork right into your lip. A major trigger of cold sores is physical trauma (hitting your lip, biting your lip, burning your lips on something hot) so anytime I do any of the aforementioned I make sure I haven’t forgotten my Lysine tablets recently and I give my lips a thin layer of Tea Tree ointment (see below) just to be safe.
- Find Your Triggers:
For me, it’s usually certain lip products and stress/lack of sleep, although the extreme temperatures one catches me out too. I’ve learnt the hard way that lip products with Lanolin in them are not my friend which means the Insta-famous Lanolips that *everyone* raves about is never going to be my go-to. It sounds basic, but find what sets you off and avoid it where possible, or if you can’t, then just try and be aware and have your ‘cures’ on hand ready to save the day if that tingle turns up.
- Ice Cubes:
I don’t understand the science of it, but for some reason, applying ice or a cold pack to a cold sore can actually reduce the severity and duration. It doesn’t always stop it from coming through but it helps minimise the severity and in my experience makes them a lot less painful.
- Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Cold Sore Cream:
As soon as I’m done with the ice cubes I get a decent layer of this all over my lips. This cream has a few of the typical ingredients you find in cold sore creams (Camphor, Menthol and Phenol) but with the added benefit of Tea Tree Oil which has antiviral, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties. I find this cream works way better than the much more popular Zorvirax staple that every pharmacy stocks.
NOTE: When applying anything to a cold sore always use disposable cotton buds and wash your hands thoroughly, before and after. Cold sores are highly contagious and can spread and it’s not unusual to have more than one at a time because the infection has moved around. I know it’s not super eco-friendly but I use a tissue or paper towel to dry my mouth instead of a towel after a shower, and usually swap out my toothbrush after a cold sore too.
- Zovirax Patches:
I prefer the above-mentioned Tea Tree Cold Sore Cream to the Zovirax cream, but their patches or the Compeed patches definitely help to reduce the severity. If I’ve got a monster cold sore to contend with I like to pop a patch on before bed to help reduces its lifespan.
- Apple Cider Vinegar:
I’m not sure where this idea started (possibly from within the ‘green brigade’ that think apple cider vinegar can cure just about anything) but if you’ve got a cold sore thriving in a warm and moist environment – gross, but that’s essentially what you mouth is – drying it out will make it harder for it to live it’s best life. A little of the vinegar on a disposable cotton round held on the sore will get in there and dry it out so that the healing process can begin a little quicker. Be warned, this will hurt like an absolute you-know-what (think lemon juice on a paper cut vibes) but it does help speed everything along.
- Medication: Prescription and Over The Counter
If I’ve got a special occasion coming up I pull out the big guns, and these tablets are the real deal! These tablets only work if you take them right at the first signs of a tingle so you basically need to have these on hand and ready to go. Usually, the tingle disappears almost immediately. Full disclaimer though; I do find it just puts it off for a while because a week or two later that tingle always seems to come back. So in my experience, it’s more of a delay then a fix, but if I’ve got something special on this weekend I’d definitely rather a postponement and be cold sore free for the event and deal with it later.
I’ve heard people give rave reviews to handheld, light devices that ‘kill’ the virus. Personally, I haven’t tried anything like that, the Australian market is usually pretty slow to adopt beauty devices and so since they are still gaining popularity abroad, I think it will be a while before we see them here, but it’s something that I’m definitely wanting to test out in the future.
What are your thoughts? Any cold sore treatments you swear by??