Home Remedies and Over-the-Counter Products to Get Rid of a Cold Sore Quickly
I've suffered from cold sores my entire life. As a kid, I would get them at least once a month, and they would be giant, painful clusters. After a lot of research, I've learned how to keep outbreaks down to once or twice a year, and make sure that each sore only lasts two or three days. I've discovered a variety of helpful methods, some which work better for me than others. Because each person is different, I encourage you to experiment with different methods until you find what works for you, and finally win the battle against cold sores!
Check out my photographic journal of my most recent cold sore, with daily pictures and an explanation of what I did to treat it that day. You'll see that this method had my cold sore cured within 3 days!
Campho-Phenique Cold Sore Treatment
My favorite over-the-counter cure is Campho-Phenique. It can be applied before the cold sore forms, when you get a tingling sensation on your lip, and I have found it to help in preventing the sore from forming at all. However, it works best in the next stage- once the blister has formed. Campho-Phenique has strong drying action mixed with a powerful pain reliever. I apply it multiple times a day, whenever I start to feel pain. Not only does it stop your sore from hurting, the drying action almost feels good as it zaps the blister.
My most common cold sore cure is to pop the blisters in the morning when I see they've formed (described in detail later), and apply Campho-Phenique throughout the day. When I get home at night, I pop any remaining blisters and apply once more before going to sleep. The sore is almost always in the healing stage by the time I wake up.
L-Lysine Capsules and Ointment
I think we can all agree that when it comes to cold sores, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The ultimate goal is to never get another outbreak again. Your best defense in cold sore prevention is, without a doubt, L-Lysine. To get into the science for a brief moment, your body chooses from two types of building blocks when it is forming new skin: lysine and arginine. If it has an arginine deficiency, it will simply use more lysine. Cold sores need arginine to grow, so always making sure your body has a surplus of lysine is the best way to keep cold sores from ever forming.
If you experience frequent outbreaks, it's a good idea to take L-Lysine tablets every day. They can be found in most health and nutrition stores, or at your local pharmacy. In general, a few hundred milligrams a day (one small tablet) will be sufficient. If you feel a cold sore coming in, or your immune system is down due to another sickness, recent stress and lack of sleep, or something like a facial sunburn, ramp up to taking at least 1000mg. When I feel a cold sore coming, I usually take a 500mg tablet every hour. Of course, most of the excess vitamin is not absorbed by the body, but I like to make sure I'm doing as much as I can.
L-Lysine Ointment is the best prevention I've found. The second you feel a tingle, start slathering it all over your lips. The Basic Organics brand contains petroleum jelly and other vitamins, so it's good for your lips and can be used daily as a lip balm. With daily use, you should see the number of outbreaks you get drop significantly, but if you ever do feel that tingle keep a constant coating on your lips and the surrounding area.
The final source of l-lysine is your diet. Dairy products and fish have high concentrations of l-lysine. Chocolate and coffee, along with wheat products like bread and pasta, contain high amounts of arginine. When you have a cold sore or feel one coming on, chow down on cheese, milk, tuna sandwiches, and salmon fillets! Flounder has one of the highest l-lysine contents of any food, so if you have access to a pound of fresh flounder when you feel the sore coming, have yourself a feast. The sore will never form.
If you can make l-lysine a part of your daily life, through vitamin tablets, ointment, and/or diet, you will start to see a drop in the frequency and severity of your outbreaks. When you are suffering from an outbreak, taking vitamins, using ointment, and eating right will greatly reduce the duration, and your sore will heal up within a few days.
I'm not a big fan of Abreva, solely because of the price. In my experience, it only works if you catch the sore right at the first tingle. If a blister has already formed, Abreva does nothing, and doesn't even help with the pain. However, it really does work if you can catch a sore fast enough. There have been countless times I've felt the tingle, stopped into a store and bought some Abreva to slather on every hour or two, and by the next day the tingle is gone and no blister has formed. I prefer using L-Lysine for prevention, and Campho-Phenique for curing an already-formed blister, but if I can catch the sore in the stage where I can feel it tingling just below my skin, I will cough up the dough for some Abreva.
Hydrogen peroxide will do a good job of aerating the blister and drying it out. It can, however, be harmful to the healthy skin around the blister, so be careful. I usually dab some hydrogen peroxide on a Q-Tip and hold it directly on the blister, taking great care to avoid touching the surrounding healthy cells. You can end up making the blister worse if you damage the skin around it. Hydrogen peroxide should only be used once the blister has already formed. If you use it during the tingling stage, you are damaging the healthy skin that's trying to fight off the infection. If you use it during the healing stage, you're increasing the length of time you'll have a visible scar. I'll generally only use hydrogen peroxide once or twice throughout the day, and use it very carefully. Holding a soaked Q-Tip on the blister will dry it out quite a bit, and the oxidating tingle provides a nice pain relief.
While in the past I've found all these remedies to help, they aren't my preferred method. As different things work for different people, I'm listing these in case you'd like to experiment with some options.
Be warned: This will HURT. Take a clove of garlic and cut it in half- the freshly cut side should produce a sticky substance. Press that side onto your blister and hold it for as long as you can take the pain. Garlic has many healing properties that can be used for a variety of illnesses, but raw garlic can be potentially harmful. The sticky substance it produces is fairly toxic to skin. It will kill the herpes virus that is attempting to form more blisters, but it will also damage the healthy skin. If you use garlic two or three times the first day you have a blister, it will probably dry up the blister by the next day, but the healing stage will take longer because you've damaged the skin.
Another method of using garlic is to slice up a clove into tiny pieces and put them in warm water, let the water soak up the juices for a minute or two, and then drink it. This could potentially hurt your throat or cause stomach pain, but some say it helps. I would caution against it, as raw garlic can be very harmful to consume in some cases.
- Nail Polish Remover (with Acetone)
This works much like garlic. It will dry up the blister quickly, but damage healthy cells in the process. You can apply it with a Q-Tip to make sure it gets only on the blister, and press the soaked Q-Tip on the blister for as long as you can stand. It will burn, but that sucker will dry out instantly.
Some people insist holding an ice cube on the area as soon as you feel a tingle, and leaving it on until the entire ice cube has melted, will prevent a blister from forming. This has never worked for me, and actually seems to make it worse, but some people swear by it.
Popping the Blisters
No matter what method you are using to heal the blister, popping it is an important step in making sure it heals quickly. Once in the morning and once at night, examine your sore to see if any blisters have formed. Take a clean needle or safety pin, and hold it over a flame until it is white hot, in order to disinfect it. Rinse it under cold water to cool it off, and then use the sharp point to pop each blister you see. Because cold sores tend to be clusters of many tiny blisters, it may take a little time to identify and pop each blister. Take a clean cloth or tissue and press down on the sore, draining each opened blister of its liquid. The liquid that fills the sores is highly infectous, so wash your hands and face immediately before and after popping the blisters. You may also want to use hydrogen peroxide immediately after popping, to disinfect the area and air out the newly opened blisters. Finally, apply your cure of choice- Campho-Phenique, L-Lysine ointment, nail polish remover, or any other drying agent you plan on using. If you perform this procedure two or three times the day the blister forms, they should be dried out and in the healing stage by the next day.
You've popped the blisters, dried them out, and loaded up on L-Lysine to keep more from forming. Your blisters are finally in the healing stage. You'll usually see dry, flaky skin over the site of the blister, which can be white or yellowish-green in appearance. The skin should flake off very easily. The best thing you can do in this stage is keep the area moisturized, and let it heal. Continue rubbing L-Lysine ointment on the area if you purchased some, or use an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin. If the blisters are gone but the skin is still moist, you can spend another day using Campho-Phenique until they are completely dried out. Try not to pick at the skin or peal it off- right now, you've subdued the infection and need to just let the body complete the healing process. Be sure to drink plenty of water, eat right, and get decent sleep. The scabs should fall off within a day or two, and you'll be left with a small red mark that shrinks a little more every day. Hopefully, within a week of that first blister forming, there will be no sign of you ever having a cold sore!