Cold sores can be uncomfortable, unsightly and embarrassing, yet a large percentage of the population will experience a cold sore at some point in their life.
The effects can vary from person to person and they can be triggered by a range of factors. Understanding what causes a cold sore, what you can do to prevent the onset and deal with an outbreak is beneficial, so let’s shed some light on the situation.
What they are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are a result of infection with herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1). This strain of the herpes simplex virus is considered to be oral herpes, where infections tend to occur on the facial area, particularly around the mouth and nose. Infection usually results in small irritating (and sometimes painful) fluid-filled blisters on the skin and mucous membranes.
Initial symptoms of a cold sore commonly include, burning, tingling or itching sensations about the edges of the lips or nose. Several hours later a small red bump and blister develop in the irritated area, and sometimes multiple blisters may group together to form a large sore.
Later, these blisters which contain fluid will break open, leaving a red raw patch – the cold sore. As these blisters dry out and begin to heal, they may develop crusts and become scabbed. These classic symptoms may be accompanied by other effects including mild fever and enlargement of the lymph nodes in the neck.
Why do they keep appearing?
After the initial infection, HSV lies dormant in the body. This means that the virus becomes inactive but remains in the nerve cells. The virus in the nerve root can become active again, how often the virus reactivates varies from one person to the next.
The virus can be reactivated by various triggers, including:
- Stress and fatigue.
- Being run down, low immunity.
- Menstruation, hormonal imbalances.
- Skin damage from heat, wind or sun.
How you can reduce this risk of them from coming back:
- Get enough sleep - 7-9 hours per night on average tends to be ideal for most people.
- Exercise regularly to help with stress and anxiety levels.
- Keep out of the sun or apply sunscreen.
- Eat a balanced diet, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (see list of specific foods below).
- Keep a healthy immune system, especially in the lead up to the winter months (see list of herbs and supplements below).
- Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, which can impair your immune system.
How you can prevent passing them on to others:
HSV-1 is spread through saliva. Kissing, using the same eating utensils (cups, cutlery) and sharing personal items (such as a razor, cigarette, makeup or toothbrush) can cause you to contract the virus. Part of the reason that herpes infections are so common – and so easy to transmit – is that approximately one third of infected people suffer no symptoms and unknowingly spread the virus.
- Avoid kissing people with visible cold sores. Also, if you’re experiencing a slight tingling sensation, it’s best to leave the kissing alone for a little while.
- Don't share personal items. This applies even if the cold sore is not present. If you have had a cold sore in the past, it’s best not to share personal items.
- Wash your hands frequently. Like most infectious disease, personal hygiene is an important priority to avoid transmitting to others.
Nutrition, Herbs and Dietary Supplements:
The amino acid Lysine may help prevent cold-sore outbreaks, and the amino acid arginine may promote cold-sore outbreaks, so it can be helpful to eat plenty of lysine-rich foods and reduce arginine-containing foods to help keep cold sores at bay.
|Lysine-rich foods (EAT MORE)||Arginine-rich foods (AVOID)|
|Legumes: black beans, lentils, kidney beans||Nuts|
|Meat: Fish, lamb, chicken, beef, pork & eggs||Oats|
|Vegetables: beets, avocadoes, tomatoes, sprouts||Turkey|
|Fruits: Mangoes, berries, papaya, apples, pears, figs||Chocolate|
|Milk, yoghurt, cheese||Wholewheat|
|Other: Spirulina, Quinoa|
To further boost your Lysine intake, consider a Lysine Supplement. Taking Lysine Supplements may speed recovery time and reduce the chance of recurrent breakouts of cold sore infection. It is generally suggested you take between 1 – 3 g of Lysine daily.
A few studies also suggest that lysine may help shorten the length of an outbreak and enhance the healing of the cold sore.
*Usually high doses of lysine are taken only for a short time. Several studies on Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) Herbal treatments suggest that topical ointments containing lemon balm may also help heal cold sores.