Cold sores are little blisters that erupt on the surface of the skin and mucous membranes, mainly on and around the lips. The virus responsible for cold sores is known as Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV1). Other members of the herpes family include HSV2 (genital herpes), chicken pox and shingles. Although appearing on the skin, the herpes virus lives within the roots of nerves, only manifesting when the nerves are activated by stress or other triggers.
Behind the scenes
The incubation period for herpes is 2 to 12 days, so you could have the virus for nearly two weeks before there is any sign of a cold sore, although herpes is at its most contagious when the blisters are visible. An outbreak of blisters can last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, but usually resolves within two or three weeks. You can feel rundown in the days before the blisters appear, and a warning tingling on the skin may precede an outbreak. The bad news is that once caught, the herpes virus resides permanently in nerve endings, willing and able to break out at any time. The good news is that the first attack is generally the worst, and subsequent bouts are less and less severe. The virus may eventually burn itself out.
- Tingling on the skin before an outbreak.
- Blisters or small ulcers erupt on the lips, gums, other parts of the face and even the genitals. Genital herpes (HSV2) also (obviously) appear on the genitals, but do not generally appear on the face. Both viruses are treated in a similar way.
- Feeling of malaise.
- Enlarged glands in the neck and or groin.
What causes it?
- You caught it from someone, which is something that is outstandingly easy to do as the herpes virus is highly infectious. Also direct contact with someone’s saliva via a herpes blister, kissing, using the toothbrush of someone who has the infection or sharing cutlery.
- There are triggers for herpes and these include stress, infection, sun or wind exposure, before the menstrual period when the body’s immune system is low, before a first date or any potentially stressful situation. family get-togethers (all highly stressful situations).
What to do
The most any treatment can offer is to lull the herpes virus into a long and dormant sleep. This is best done by supporting both immune and nervous systems. Many of the following suggestions can be taken as preventative measures, just increase the dose if an outbreak occurs. These suggestions are equally helpful for shingles and genital herpes.
- The two amino acids, arginine to lysine, are often trotted out in articles on herpes and natural remedies. While it is true that the herpes virus prefers arginine to lysine, and lysine taken in large amounts can help an outbreak, to eliminate arginine from the diet would be virtually impossible and mean cutting out some pretty good foods including nuts and legumes. An outbreak of herpes is hardly likely to occur if you have been enjoying a lentil soup too many. It is much more likely to happen if you are stressed to the max and you’ve been drinking an excess coffee and living on takeaways. However, if an attack is underway by all means reduce foods high in arginine. These include chocolate, peanuts, soya beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds and carob. To improve the ‘lysine-to-arginine-ratio’ in the body, include more of the following food into the diet – eggs, fish, chicken, milk, cheese, brewer’s yeast, fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid coffee, alcohol and sugar. None of which are beneficial for the nervous or immune system.
- Herbs to support the immune system include echinacea, cat’s claw and andrographis. At a low dose these can be taken long term. At the first sign of an outbreak increase one or more to larger doses.
- Herbs to support the nervous system include; St John’s wort, lemon balm, chamomile and green oats. St John’s wort deserves special mention as it is not only restorative for the nervous sysem, but it also has antiviral properties specifically against the herpes virus.
- Vitamin C, 500 g daily and Zinc 22 mg daily as preventative, increase to 3 times a day as above. (A smaller dose for children)
- Take a lysine tablet three times a day between meals. Generally, the dose when an attack has hit should be up to 1000 mg per day. You could also take lysine at a lower dose (around 50 to 100 mg a day) as a preventative, particularly when you are run down or feel vulnerable to an episode of herpes. (Note: lysine doesn’t work for everyone; if there is no improvement for you, stop taking it.)
- Take a vitamin B complex daily for the nerves as a preventative measure, take one breakfast and lunch during stressful times.
- Dab a small amount of zinc sulphate solution to heal.
- Aloe vera gel helps to heal and dry blisters.
- Licorice root extract is particularly good applied straight onto the blister.
- To help blisters dry out, wash with a diluted mixture of apple cider vinegar and water, about one teaspoon per cup of water
- After the blisters have dried, apply some vitamin E straight from a capsule to prevent scarring.
- A good and inexpensive remedy to ease the pain is a used Earl Grey tea bag. Apply the cool tea bag to the blisters for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times daily.
- Ice is nice. From the moment you notice any warning tingle or pain, place ice wrapped in a tea towel or even a bag of frozen peas on the area affected. If you are lucky, this could stop an attack in its tracks.
- If the blisters occur around the genitals, urination can be painful. Spray them with cold water from a spray bottle when you are having a wee. Or urinate in the shower or bath.
- Stress is the most common cause of herpes outbreaks. Do what you can to keep the nervous system calm to prevent flare-ups, this could involve yoga, meditation, whatever takes your fancy.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and avoid direct sunlight as this can trigger an outbreak
- Avoid kissing or hugging anyone with an outbreak of herpes on their lips.
- 5 drops of tea tree – anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, immune-stimulant.
- 3 drops of geranium – astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, styptic.
- 2 drops of ravensara – antiseptic, antimicrobial, antiviral, immunomodulant
- 2 drops of lemon myrtle – anesthetic, antimicrobial, antimicrobial.
Make into a balm and apply as needed. Wash your hands thoroughly before use.
- 6 drops of true lavendar – analgesic, antiseptic, antiphlogistic, cytophylactic.
- 4 drops of blue cypress – anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, analgesic, antibacterial, anti-histamine.
- 4 drops of german chammomile – analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, vulnerary.
- 1 drop of peppermint – analgesic, anesthetic, astringent, nervine.
This blend will help reduce the pain and discomfort associated with shingles. Add to a bath with some bi-carbonate soda or add to 30 g aloe vera gel that may be applied directly on the lesions.
At a glance
- Avoid caffeine, sugar and alcohol. The do not support the immune nor the nervous system, both of which you need in tiptop shape to prevent further outbreaks.
- Decrease arginine foods at the time of an outbreak. This is found in the following foods: chocolate, peanuts, soya beans and other legumes, nuts, seeds and carob.
- Take herbs that improve immune function such as echinacea, cat’s claw, andrographis. Increase the dosage as soon as you are aware of an outbreak.
- Take the following herbs to calm the nervous system – St John’s wort, lemon balm, green oats, chamomile.
- Supplements for the immune system include zinc and Vitamin C. Take regularly and increase with an outbreak of herpes.
- Topically apply tincture of licorice root or zinc sulphite.
- Dry the blisters with diluted apple cider vinegar.
- Stay out of strong sunlight or at least wear a hat.
- Knowing that stress is a huge trigger for herpes so adopt some calming practices into your life such as meditation, yoga, gardening.
- Wave goodbye to your loved ones rather than kiss when the cold sores are hanging around.