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How to Treat Cold Sores

Cold sores are painful blisters, sometimes called fever blisters, usually found on the lips, gums or roof of the mouth. The herpes simplex virus causes them. Find out about the latest research and innovative treatment options for these uncomfortable flare-ups.

Cold Sores Caused by Herpes Virus

Cold sores are contagious and often confused with canker sores, which are not contagious. Canker sores typically form on the tongue or walls of the mouth. Herpes virus infections, either type I or type 2, usually last a week and a half. Herpes simplex type 2 is normally a genital infection, but the virus can also affect the area around the lips (WebMD, 2013).

Herpes infections recur because the virus that causes the sore lives in the nerve fiber near the site. If you have a cold sore and have an area of skin breakdown elsewhere on the body, your virus might replicate there, causing another viral cache, and another sore. Up to 80 million Americans are affected by herpes (WebMD, 2013).

Researchers Find Cellular Process that Cures Cold Sores

Recently, scientists discovered a cellular process by which the cell is able to destroy the virus. The nuclear membrane of an infected cell can identify herpes simplex type 1 virus, and then stimulate the immune system to fight its replication.  Researchers at the University de Montreal collaborated with scientists at Penn State and Washington University, and they hope to use this discovery to eventually treat the virus with medication that can activate this mechanism against herpes. They also plan to attempt to utilize their discovery to help prevent infection by other pathogens that hide within cells to prevent their own destruction (English et al., 2009).

Cold Sore Quick Facts

• The fluid that leaks from a cold sore is full of replicated viral particles.

• The herpes virus spreads by kissing or through the use of the same washcloth.

• Topical agents with anti-viral property relieve pain and help the sore heal.

• Even without treatment, cold sores heal themselves but remain quite painful.

• Cold sores hurt because the virus lives in the nerve (known as neuropathic pain).

• When the virus enters a nerve cell, it forces it to make clones of the virus, and the virus destroys the cell and releases the clones (contagious!)

(Bell et al., 2013; Richardson et al., 2013)

Herbal Cold Sore Remedies

There are multiple herbal remedies for cold sores. Here is a list.

• Lysine - One of the most highly recommended herbal products is lysine. This holistic product is an amino-acid used to make the proteins that make antibodies, the body's defense against pathogens like herpes simplex. Lysine can be found in supplements or ointment.

• Lemon balm – This therapy also has antiviral properties and helps promote the healing process if used as a cream or balm.

• Reishi mushroom – This mushroom is long used in Asia because it strengthens the immune system. Reishi should be used with caution because it can also prolong bleeding. If you take aspirin or Coumadin, discuss reishi with your doctor before beginning that supplement.

• Astragalus – This is an herb that is sometimes used with reishi to improve the immune system in people with herpes virus.

• Reservatrol – A substance found in red grapes and red wine that has anti-oxidant properties, reservatrol helps prevent cold sores. When studied at Northeastern Ohio University, reservatrol in a topical cream preparation was found effective in prevention of cold sores if used soon after infection. These researchers said reservatrol was as good as acyclovir, which comes in a topical ointment often prescribed by doctors.

• Peppermint oil –This substance penetrates the skin and is a viracide, which means that it kills viral particles. However, although studies have shown that peppermint oil is effective against herpes, we need more research due to its toxicity. It should not be taken by mouth, as it is unsafe in even small amounts.

• Prunella vulgaris – Another herb known as "self-heal" or Prunella vulgaris helps with cold sores. This herb is found in Europe and Asia, and is effective against herpes simplex 1 and 2.


• Propolis –This is a substance used by bees, collected from conifer buds to cement the beehives and keep them sanitary. It works against herpes by preventing penetration of the cells by the herpes virus. Propolis is a resinous substance thought to block viral replication.

• Echinacea –Another good herbal remedy is echinacea, which some naturopathic experts claim has protective properties against the viruses that cause the common cold, is also active against herpes simplex virus type 1.

(Wong, 2013)

The Cold Sore – Low Immunity Connection

Anyone with a severe or chronic illness should consult with their doctors before they begin a regimen of herbal supplements that might interfere with their medications. People who have compromised immune systems, such as the elderly or people with HIV, tend to be susceptible to viral re-infections like herpes, or, for example, herpes zoster, the virus that causes both chicken pox and shingles.

The healthy person can muster his or her immune defense against herpes. However, even extreme fatigue can affect your immune system, and if you know you have herpes, it is important to do what you can to keep your immune system functioning well. Some of the supplements we mentioned help to keep the immune system active before an infection occurs (Wong, 2013).

If you do have an infection, some things you should do include changing towels after each use, and avoiding contact between the sore and other people. Topical numbing creams can be helpful, as can putting ice on the sore. Just put some ice in a Ziplock baggie and seal it before placing it on your cold sore. If you have frequent herpetic infections, you should consult with your physician to determine if you have an underlying cause (WebMD, 2013).

Final Thoughts

Cold sores, caused by the herpes viruses, are painful and problematic. Thankfully, researchers and scientists are one step closer to finding a cure through the discovery of an innovative cellular process. There are many prescription medicines and herbal treatments for cold sores. Now that you know about the cause and the cure, prevent and treat your cold sores with one of these remedies.

References

Bell C, Desjardins M, Thibault P, Radtke K.(2013). Proteomics Analysis of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1-Infected Cells Reveals Dynamic Changes of Viral Protein Expression, Ubiquitylation, and Phosphorylation. Journal of Proteome Research.

English L, Chemali M, Duron J,  Rondeau C et al. (2009).  Autophagy enhances the presentation of endogenous viral antigens on MHC class I molecules during HSV-1 infection. Nature Immunology.

Richardson VN, Davis S, Gustafson C, West C, Feldman S. (2013). Patterns of Disease and Treatment of Cold Sores.J Dermatology Treatment, in press.

Web MD (2013). Cold Sores: Causes and Treatments.

Wong, C. of About.com (2012). Cold sore remedies. Retrieved from: http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/supplements/a/ColdSores.htm

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