A cold sore manifests as a small blister or cluster of blisters occurring on the lips (and sometimes also the face). It is caused by a viral infection – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Tingling, itching or burning sensations generally herald the blistering to come. As a virus it is highly contagious and has its own lifecycle.
Some people get a cold sore once and it never returns but, with most, once contracted the virus remains for many years, if not for a lifetime. Thankfully it is predominantly dormant with possibly one or two flare-ups each year, but it is also easily triggered into activity by sunburn or other damage to the lip surface and also by stress or fatigue. So looking after yourself is the best way to keep it repressed.
Outbreaks generally clear up without any intervention or treatment within seven to ten days. There are plenty of over-the-counter lip balms and topical creams to suppress the viral activity and soothe the soreness and there are many home cures, too, to make it more manageable.
When it comes to garden soured treatments – Topical tincture or tisane rinses of selfheal, goldenseal, St John’s wort or hyssop are antiviral. Lavender or thyme in a balm or blitzed into paste is also beneficial. The juice of houseleeks is soothing and hydrating, which is key to relief. To address the flare-up try antiviral iced teas harvested from your own garden – they not only boost your internal immune system but also work on contact with the lips and mouth. I would opt for chamomile, as it contains bisabolol, an antimicrobial wound healer, and its anti-inflammatory nature is beneficial too. You can also try lemon balm, bergamot, mint, echinacea or thyme. Liquorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid that can inhibit and fight viral spread.
In terms of Kitchen support – Over-the-counter antiviral creams work at the tingle stage but are generally ineffective thereafter, while honey works at every stage to suppress the surfacing virus, soothe any pain or itch, seal bleeding, soften scabs and promote replacement skin cells at wound sites. A dusting of cinnamon is a great antiseptic and dries up ruptured blisters and bleeds.
One of the best things you can do is avoid acidic or salty foods, as they not only sting but also can suppress your immune system just as it attempts to fight the virus flare-up. The mistake is to reduce eating and drinking for fear of bursting a blister or cracking a scab – you need to drink plenty of fluids to keep the lip hydrated and functioning normally in unaffected areas.
Make your own Cold Sore Blitz Paste
All ingredients are antiviral, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil
• 1 tablespoon lavender foliage
• 1 tablespoon chopped chamomile tops (flowers or foliage)
• 1 teaspoon honey
Simply blitz together all the ingredients. Use as a dab treatment throughout the day, each day until virus subsides. Stores best in the fridge for a few weeks.