You Have a Cold Sore – What are You Going to do About It?
I think by now you all know that I love herpes – on an academic level, of course. I am fascinated by all the tricks the virus uses to hide out in your body. However, I am not particularly thrilled when I have a cold sore outbreak.
I realized the other day that although I have written many posts about herpes, I haven’t really given you any useful information on how to treat outbreaks. Today I thought I would start with cold sores.
Cold sores are those nasty blisters that appear usually on the border between your lips and your face. You may get only one, or a whole group of them might decide to have a party on your face. People who get them frequently often notice a tingling or numb sensation in the area just before the blisters appear. The blisters tend to last only a few days, but once the blisters erupt, the small sores or cuts that are leftover can last up to 2 weeks.
While there is nothing you can do to rid your body of the herpesvirus that causes cold sores, there are several things you can do to prevent and treat outbreaks. Today I thought I would talk about these and some treatments you might find on the internet that are not necessarily proven to work.
Destress your life. Outbreaks can occur when your body is stressed. Lack of sleep, being sick from other viruses, too much time in the sun and even menstruation can trigger an outbreak. Keep yourself healthy, get plenty of sleep (easier said then done) and use lip balms with sunscreen when you are in the sun.
Lysine. Lysine is an amino acid that has been touted for prevention and treatment of cold sores. The scientific theory behind this is that the virus requires another amino acid, arginine, to grow. Arginine is obtained through the foods we eat and lysine can prevent the body from absorbing arginine from foods. However, trials aimed at proving that lysine prevents cold sores have been inconclusive. In addition, the high doses of lysine that are needed can lead to kidney problems when taken for long periods of time.
Lip balms/ointments containing anesthetic. There are several medications on the market sold for the treatment of cold sores. The one I can think of off the top of my head is Carmex. If you read the ingredients list, you will see that many of these ointments contain ingredients like phenol, menthol or benzocaine. These ingredients are local anesthetics – they will make the area feel better, but they will have no effect on the virus and will not prevent or lessen the outbreak.
Herpecin-L. When I first heard of this product I was very excited that a new treatment had been found. When I read the list of active ingredients however, I was sorely disappointed. Of the 5 active ingredients, 1 is a skin protectant and 4 are sunscreens. Lysine is listed as one of the inactive ingredients. I never tried the product because it doesn’t have anything that will directly fight the virus, but many people on the internet swear it works well.
Abreva. Abreva is the only FDA-approved treatment for cold sores that doesn’t need a prescription. Abreva has been proven to significantly shorten the length of the outbreak, particularly if it is applied at the very first sign of a cold sore. It also helps to apply the ointment frequently. Abreva contains docosanol which is believed to prevent the virus from entering a cell. I use Abreva and it works very well for me. Be warned about sticker shock – Abreva is pricey, but a tube can last me almost a whole year.
Prescription drugs. Oral and topical prescription antivirals such as acyclovir can be used to treat cold sores. Drugs of this class prevent the virus from growing inside the cell and can effectively shorten the duration of an outbreak when used at the first sign. For me it never seemed worth it to get the prescription drug – I decided I could deal with being unsightly a few weeks out of the year.
I hope this helps you out the next time you feel those little buggers making an appearance!