Inflamed, painful cold sores arise when you least want them to appear, often when you’re already under stress.
While the virus that causes cold sores, herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), lies dormant in the body between outbreaks and cannot be cured, home remedies may decrease pain, prevent outbreaks or help shorten their duration. What’s more, you’re not alone: about half of all adults in the United States are infected by age 20, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Keeping stress levels low is the first step in preventing and healing outbreaks, says Judy Fulop, a naturopathic physician at Northwestern Integrative Medicine in Chicago. “Stress decreases normal protective immune function,” she explains.
Specific foods can also activate a dormant HSV-1, triggering an outbreak. Foods high in the amino acid arginine, such as chocolate, peanuts and other nuts, should be avoided, Fulop says. Balance your arginine levels with the amino acid lysine, which can be taken as a daily supplement, doubling the dosage at the first sign of an outbreak, Fulop says.
Search your kitchen pantry for other simple home remedies, she advises.
- Dab a small amount of probiotics—natural immune fighters—onto the sore.
- Avoid alcohol and acidic, tart or spicy foods until your sores are healed.
- Eat cabbage daily during an outbreak to help heal the mucous membrane disturbed by the sore.
Portland, Ore., naturopathic doctor Amy Bader on the clinical faculty of the National College of Natural Medicine, says that lemon balm, often found in teas, and 200 mcg a day of the mineral selenium may also help.
As for other touted home remedies, particulary dabbing milk on a sore, Bader says it’s unproven, but if it brings you relief, it’s not going to hurt you.