What are Cold Sores? Symptoms, and nutritional and natural treatments.
BY Bruce Shane 6 July, 2007
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The first cold sores usually occur in childhood. The virus infects through the moist ‘inner’ skin that lines the mouth. It is commonly passed on by skin contact such as kisses from a family member who has a cold sore.
After the first cold sore infection, the herpes simplex virus settles in a nearby nerve sheath and remains there for the rest of your life. For most of the time, the virus lies dormant (inactive) and causes no symptoms. However, in some people the virus becomes ‘active’ from time to time. When activated, the virus multiplies and travels down the nerve sheath to cause cold sore blisters around the mouth. Some people have cold sores often, others only now and then. It is not clear what causes the dormant herpes virus to become active. Some things that may ‘trigger’ the virus to activate and cause a cold sore include:
* Stress or just being ‘run down’ for one of many reasons.
* Sunshine. Strong, direct sunlight may trigger cold sores in some people.
What are the symptoms of cold sores?
You may feel a tingle or itch before the blisters appear, usually around your lips or nose. This can last several hours, or up to a day or so. After the tingle, one or more blisters appear which are usually sore. They may weep and take several days to scab. The scab slowly disappears over a week or so leaving no scar. Some virus will remain dormant in the nerve sheath ready to cause another cold sore sometime in the future.
Can cold sores be passed on to other people?
When you have a cold sore you should not kiss anyone or allow anyone to come into skin contact with the sore. In particular, avoid kissing newborn babies and anyone who has a poor immune system such as people on chemotherapy or with AIDS. However, when you have no symptoms (when the virus is dormant), you are not usually infectious. Also, healthy people who already have cold sores cannot be re-infected.
What are the treatments for cold sores?
Cold sores are best treated through a management plan which looks to lifestyle changes as well as natural preventative remedies rather than medical treatments
Cold sores can be aggravated by lifestyle choices and will often be triggered either when your immune system has been reduced or the lips themselves suffer even a slight trauma.
The most common trauma to your lips is excessive sunlight. The lips suffer from effects of sun in the same way as the rest of your body. Even a small amount of sunlight can be sufficient trigger in some people. So avoiding too much sunlight or wearing an SPF on your lips can be a good precautionary move if you find that sunlight triggers your cold sores. Other traumas can include certain types of food such as spicy foods or certain types of fruits which can sting the lips with the fruit acids in their juice. Although fruits and especially the naturally occuring vitamin C inside of them are excellent for a robust immune system which also plays an important role in reducing outbreaks.
A healthy immune system will help to reduce the activation of the herpes simplex virus. People often find they have an outbreak when they are run down, stressed or suffering an emotional upset. All these causes are linked to the immune system. So good sleep, moderate exercise and a healthy diet can for some people be enough to reduce cold sores outbreaks dramatically.
Exercise is a difficult area to manage for some people, as too little can contribute to depression, anxiety and feelings of stress which can trigger an outbreak. But too much can also reduce the immune system by wearing out the body. So balance is important as part of a cold sores management plan.
There is research showing that two amino acids can play a part in cold sores formation. Firstly, Arginine is believed to help the herpes simplex virus grow. This amino acid is vital for health and muscle growth. The body also produces it naturally. However, it is best to avoid supplementing your diet or eating too much of it. For example, many protein shakes and supplements for body builders contain excessive amounts of this Arginine. Also chocolate, peanut butter and nuts contain high levels of Argenine. So while it is healthy to eat some of these foods, perhaps best not to overdo it.
The second amino acid is Lysine, which is believed to help stop cold sores virus. The good news is Lysine is contained in most healthy foods, including vegetables especially avocados, fruits such as apples, fish and chicken.
The other danger ingredient is artificial sweeteners. There isn’t any scientific evidence but many people have found that removing these from their diet can help reduce attacks.
The most exciting recent discovery is that an element in Liquorice called glycyrrhizic acid can turn off the herpes simplex virus which is responsible for cold sores. We recently reviewed a lip balm containing liquorice, called Liquorice Lip Balm which is high in natural glycyrrhizic acid.
Pain can be eased by painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
A pharmacist can advise a soothing cream or gel.
Antiviral creams. You can buy these at pharmacies or get them on prescription. These do not kill the virus, but prevent the virus from multiplying. They have little effect on existing blisters, but may prevent them from getting worse. So, if you use an antiviral cream as soon as symptoms start then the cold sore may not last as long, and may be less severe. There is debate as to how well these creams work. Some people say that they help a lot to limit symptoms. Others feel they make little difference.