Effective Home Remedies for Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)
One thought immediately came to mind when I first saw this billboard. Had these people (who were no doubt flocking to be guinea pigs for this study) ever tried any home remedies for cold sores before deciding that an untested drug with unknown side effects was a better way to approach the problem?
One thing is for sure: if the pharmaceutical industry has created a drug for a particular health condition, the profit potential must be in the billions of dollars!
Nontoxic home remedies for cold sores and other ailments don’t make corporations any money. Most importantly, Mother Nature can’t be patented, which is why you don’t see these simple, inexpensive solutions advertised on expensive billboards or on TV so few people seem to know about them.
For those who are looking for results without the toxic side effects, below is an overview of the best home remedies for cold sores that have historically helped people for generations.
Cold Sores Caused by a Virus
Unlike canker sores, which are typically triggered by too much sugar or fructose consumption (fruit too!) even in an otherwise healthy diet, cold sores are caused by a virus, specifically herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).
According to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, 8 out of 10 people are infected with the virus that causes cold sores, and most were infected before they were 10 years old.
There is no known cure once a person has become infected with herpes simplex. In other words, any drug, cream or home remedy only treats the symptoms and not the root cause. As a result, a strong immune system supported by excellent diet and healthy lifestyle is the best defense against outbreaks which last from 1-2 weeks.
Life isn’t perfect, so unforeseen stress, cold weather, sun exposure, a toxic environment, illness, or surgery can weaken a person’s immunity from time to time. So even with an excellent diet in place, a nasty outbreak is possible on occasion.
Unfortunately, outbreaks often seem to occur right before a major event like the high school prom, exams, graduation, or wedding nuptials which involve a lot of stress for some people! Hence, knowledge of fast acting cold sore home remedies is crucial information to avoid succumbing to the drug based approach.
Before overviewing the best home remedies for cold sores, here is a summary of the drugs on the market currently with all the many side effects.
Drugs for Cold Sores
In addition to the new drug on the horizon to treat cold sores, pharmaceuticals to treat the symptoms of cold sores come in both tablet and cream form.
Abreva® (docosanol) is a cream that is available over the counter. The manufacturer claims that it reduces the duration and discomfort associated with a cold sore outbreak if it is taken in the very early stages, ideally at the very first tingle. Docosanol cream is not appropriate for children under 12 and has not been tested on pregnant women. For those who do use it, side effects include headache, hives, rash, swelling of the lips, and allergic reaction including breathing problems (1).
Prescription anti-virals in cream and/or tablet form are also available under the following names and are usually not advisable for those with kidney problems. None have been evaluated for safety in pregnant or nursing mothers:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax): *may slightly shorten* the duration of a first attack of cold sores. Common side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and headache.
- Famciclovir (Famvir): Not recommended for people who have had an allergic reaction in the past. Side effects include itching, fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, or diarrhea.
- Penciclovir (Denavir): This prescription cream that claims to reduce the duration of a cold sore outbreak has possible side effects of headache, decreased sensitivity to touch/local anesthesia, taste perversion, rash, swelling of the mouth or throat, pain, alterations in sense of smell, abnormal touch sensation, itching, skin discoloration, and hives.
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex): Side effects include skin rash, allergic reaction, headache, dizziness, insomnia, and fatigue.
Effective Home Remedies for Cold Sores
If the lengthy list of side effects from pharmaceuticals designed to treat cold sores has you concerned or if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have kidney problems, take heart! Traditional, nontoxic home remedies for cold sores with zero side effects abound and some even have scientifically published research to back them up!
The best home remedies for cold sores that really do work to temporarily reduce discomfort and speed healing include:
- Skin icing, aka “cold therapy”
- Tea bags (black tea only)
- Raw honey (preferably manuka honey) and turmeric paste
Skin Icing (Cold Therapy)
Applying ice or a cold pack directly on a cold sore for 2-3 minutes definitely helps to reduce inflammation and temporarily reduce pain and itch. It is best to do this over a kitchen or bathroom sink to catch melting ice drips and avoid making a mess. This remedy can be repeated multiple times during the day to maintain comfort.
Black Tea Bags
Tea bags are one of the best known home remedies for cold sores. Note that black tea bags, preferably organic, are the only form of tea proven to work. Herbal tea bags are not helpful. Black tea contains tannins which have been demonstrated to inhibit the herpes virus. Studies have shown that the beneficial effect of tannins works by stunting the formation of cold sores by inhibiting absorption of the herpes simplex virus into cells (2). Some over-the-counter medications for fever blisters contain tannic acid (source).
Here’s how to apply the black tea therapy for cold sores: place a warm, recently brewed black tea bag directly on the area where the first tingle of a cold sore occurs. The earlier this home remedy is used, the better! Apply a freshly brewed tea bag for a few minutes every hour or a minimum of several times a day. Remember, the tannins in the black tea inhibit the herpes virus from invading the cells, so the more often you do this in the early stages, the more effective this home remedy will be to stifle an outbreak in its tracks, or at the very least, minimize the size of the cold sore.
Raw Manuka Honey and Turmeric Paste (Best Cold Sores Remedy)
Another cold sore home remedy that is scientifically proven to be effective is the application of raw manuka honey and turmeric to the cold sore. Again, the earlier this home remedy is used, the more satisfactory the results will be.
Note that only raw honey will do for this remedy and preferably manuka honey (also called tea tree honey) as it is the most potent type of honey in the world. Note that heating honey destroys its anti-viral properties, so do not bother with honey that has been heat treated in any way.
Simply mix a dab of raw honey (source) and a pinch of turmeric together and apply as a paste to the cold sore. Reapply as often as necessary to maintain constant application of the paste to the affected area.
Research has shown that honey is more effective than the prescription only, anti-viral cold sore drug acyclovir cream at reducing the pain and duration of cold sores. The researchers’ found that “The mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 35%, 39%, 28% and 43% better” than when the prescription item was used.” (3).
Curcumin, a major component of the curry spice turmeric, has also been shown in a lab environment to be an effective anti-viral agent against the herpes simplex type 1 virus (4). More study is needed to confirm the effectiveness on human subjects directly rather than in a lab environment. In the meantime, the research lends credence to the ancient Ayurvedic home remedy for cold sores which recommends slathering them with raw honey mixed with turmeric (5). At the very least, adding turmeric is certainly not going to hamper the effectiveness of the raw honey and may very well boost it.
Whether you are prone to frequent fever blister outbreaks or just get them occasionally, these three home remedies for cold sores can help resolve the discomfort and duration of an attack without the dangerous side effects and exposure to toxins of pharmaceutical creams and anti-viral drugs.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.