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Cold sores – causes, side effects and treatments at

Friday, February 16, 2018 by

Cold sores (also referred to as fever blisters or herpes labialis) refer to tiny blisters that are found in the lips, mouth, or nose of an infected person. Blisters caused by cold sores appear to be “grouped together in patches” and form a crust once they break.

A person who has gotten a cold sore will see it heal in two to four weeks’ time without any resulting scar. However, the blisters have been described to be painful.

Cold sores are caused by the Type I strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). In the U.S., the condition is acquired in childhood through contact with oral secretions that have HSV. It can also be transmitted through close contact such as kissing.

Currently, there is no cure for cold sores. The condition usually goes away after a few days, and it can be aided with antivirals for quicker recovery. However, blisters will often recur even after treatment.

Known risk factors and symptoms of cold sores

The pathogen that causes cold sores is known as herpes simplex virus (HSV), a contagious oral virus that can spread by kissing or close contact with a skin that is infected — even though no symptoms are present. HSV has two types — type I (HSV-1) and type II (HSV-2). HSV-1 typically causes cold sores.

After a person is infected with HSV-1, it goes up the nerve cells until it reaches a place called a ganglion, which is made up of a collection of nerve cells. There, the virus enters a period of latency. How it becomes activated from latency is still unclear, but some conditions identified include:

  • Fever, colds, or the flu (which gave them the term “fever blisters”)
  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • Stress
  • Changes in the immune system
  • Hormonal changes, such as menstruation
  • Trauma to the skin

At the onset of a cold sore, symptoms include pain, burning, and tingling at the site of the blister. The growth of vesicles follows after. This occurs yearly for most people with cold sores; however, some people experience monthly recurrences of the condition.

The virus sheds itself 24 hours after the acute illness, but symptoms may last up to five days.

While noted to be rare, there are still complications brought by cold sores. One of the most dangerous complications is a perinatal infection, wherein an infant gets infected with HSV as a result of contact with a person who has the virus. This can be a potentially life-threatening case for the infant, as the HSV can even affect his central nervous system and possibly cause severe complications that may lead to death.

People with compromised immune systems, such as those who have HIV/AIDS and severe burns, as well as those under chemotherapy and immunosuppressants after an organ transplant are also at risk.

Body systems affected by cold sores

Cold sores appear on the face, particularly in the regions around the mouth.

Food items or nutrients that may prevent cold sores

Like other forms of illness, proper diet can help reduce the frequency of outbreaks. Here are some recommendations.

  1. Eat foods that have quercetin. This bioflavonoid can be found in capers, apples, lovage, broccoli, red grapes, cherries, and many berries.
  2. Increase your lysine intake.
  3. Stock up on foods that have vitamin C and E, as well as zinc.
  4. Avoid acidic and spicy food.

Treatment and management options for cold sores

Most cold sores come and go without the need for medication. Still, antiviral creams are used to speed up healing time.

According to U.K.’s National Health Service, the following are just some things you can do to manage a cold sore.

  • Eat soft and cool foods.
  • Use an antiseptic mouthwash.
  • Wash your hands with soap before and after applying a topical cream.
  • Avoid anything that triggers your cold sore.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.

Where to learn more


Cold sores are a result of the HSV-1 infections. While these are known to heal naturally, there are still treatment and management options available.

Sources include: 1 2


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