Posted on by Paula Gallagher
Anyone who has ever had a cold sore knows they can be as embarrassing as they are uncomfortable. A contagious infection caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), cold sores are fluid-filled lesions that can last for a week or longer. Cold sores usually appear near the mouth: on the lips, chin, and cheeks. Sometimes they show up in the nostrils or on the roof of the mouth or the gums. Signs and symptoms may not show up for 1 to 3 weeks after exposure to the HSV and include:
- Small, fluid-filled red blisters, usually near the mouth
- Pain, tingling, or burning around the mouth or nose before a blister appears
- Itching or sensitivity at the site before a cold sore appears
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Oozing blisters, which then form a yellow crust that eventually sloughs off to reveal pink skin underneath.
HSV can be passed along by skin-to-skin contact and is highly contagious. The risk of infection is greatest from the time the blisters appear until they’ve completely dried and crusted over. However, the virus can still be spread, even after the skin has healed. Once you’ve had an episode of HSV, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells of your skin and can appear again at or near the original location. Fever, menstruation, stress, fatigue and sun exposure can all trigger a recurrence.
Tips to Avoid Cold Sores
- Avoid kissing someone with visible sores.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, towels, lip balm, drinking glasses or utensils.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly to help prevent infection.
- Avoid or cut down on chocolate, nuts, whole grains and gelatin, which contain high amounts of arginine, an amino acid that allows the cold sore virus to thrive.
- Boost your intake of legumes, fish, meat and dairy, foods high in the amino acid lysine, which helps to reduce arginine levels.
- Reduce stress, which is a common trigger for cold sores.
- Strengthen your immune system by eating lots of fruits and vegetables and getting adequate rest.
- Apply sunscreen to lips and face before venturing outdoors, as the sun can trigger outbreaks.
- Use lip balm regularly to prevent the lips from becoming dry, chapped or cracked.
Speed Up the Healing Process
Although cold sores can’t be cured, there are many things you can do to help ease discomfort and speed healing:
- Apply tea tree oil, which has been shown to have antimicrobial activity against the herpes simplex virus. It can be applied full strength or diluted, or via a creme or ointment.
- Apply ice or warm compresses to the blisters to diminish pain.
- At the first sign of a break-out, take 1,000 to 1,500 mg of the amino acid lysine daily. Additionally, foods high in lysine include fish, chicken, beef, lamb, milk, cheese, beans, brewer’s yeast, and most fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods high in arginine, such as chocolate, coconut, oats, whole wheat and white flour, peanuts and soybeans, which can aid the growth and reproduction of the herpes virus.
- Let blisters heal: avoid squeezing or picking at them.
- Get plenty of rest and reduce stress.
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