Cold sores are common. By some estimates more than two-thirds of adults have been infected by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), the culprit behind cold sores.

People frequently catch this infection as children or young adults. And once infected, the virus lingers for a lifetime. Sunlight, stress, fever and cold wind are just a few of the triggers that can cause the virus to migrate from the nervous system, where it hibernates, to the lip or mouth.

Some people can be infected with HSV-1 and never have an outbreak. Others get a few cold sores now and again but eventually rarely suffer. Somehow the immune system seems to keep the virus in check.

Then there are the people who have to deal with recurrent infections. Not only are fever blisters painful, they are also unsightly. It can be unnerving to try and carry on a conversation while someone stares at your cold sore.

For years, people who developed frequent cold sores just had to suffer or try home remedies. Research in recent years has resulted in the development of a number of medicines such as Denavir, Famvir, Valtrex or Zovirax. These antiviral drugs fight the herpes virus that causes cold sores and can speed healing or be used preventively to thwart outbreaks.

As effective as antiviral medicines are, the search for home remedies hasn’t ended. A number of people have had success in treating this common, annoying problem with simple, inexpensive approaches.

According to one reader, “I came across a story from a man who found out 40 years ago that buttermilk prevents cold sores. He’s been drinking the stuff ever since and has not had another outbreak.

“Out of curiosity, I got some buttermilk and I’ve been drinking it since this past Sunday. That morning I noticed a new cold sore coming on. Today is Wednesday and the cold sore is almost completely gone already! That has never happened to me before. Before this I’ve found that the sores last about 10 days, from onset to complete healing.”
One popular approach to treating cold sores is the amino acid l-lysine. We’ve gotten many testimonials similar to this one: “Starting at 8 or 9 years old, I was plagued with cold sores. (I am now 60.) About 15 years ago, a doctor told me to take 500 mg of l-lysine a day along with my vitamins.

“I rarely get a cold sore. Any I get now usually clear up in 2 or 3 days. In the past, the sores took a minimum of ten days to heal. If I stop taking the l-lysine, within a couple of months the cold sores start again.”

Another reader shared this remedy: “I’ve been troubled with cold sores since my mid-twenties and I’ve tried a lot of different remedies. If a blister appears, I cut the end off a clove of garlic and use it like a lipstick on the sore. Each time I apply the garlic, I shave the end to get fresh juice. It stings a little, but not for long. Garlic helps clear a cold sore up much faster than any other remedy I’ve tried.

“Sometimes if I start with the garlic as soon as I feel the tingling on my lip, I can stop the blisters from forming. I’ve never seen any mention of this remedy, but my sister has tried it and it works for her, too.”
It’s not reasonable to expect a home remedy to work for everyone. But these approaches to fever blisters are cheap and safe enough for anyone to try.

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  1. Carol
    Willowbrook, IL

    I used to get fever blisters once or twice a year when I was younger. I seem to have outgrown them. Maybe my immune system is better? What worked for me once, when I first felt the tingle of the on-coming fever blister, was ice. Applying ice or a cold compress helps.

  2. Mari A.
    United States

    I am currently using the garlic remedy and I think it worked a little but also made my blisters flare up more quickly It started with 2 blisters and ended up with lots more and very painful. Every time I put on garlic for 15 min it burned so badly. I started the treatment on Friday night and today, Sunday, I still have some small blisters and redness with dried up blisters. It might have gone away on its own by now if I hadn’t messed with it. Typically, my blisters last about 3 days max. Will see in the morning how things look, but from what I could see this might take longer. I hope I’m wrong. I only tried this because I thought I could get this healing process cut in half and only go through it for a day.

  3. Lanelle L.
    United States

    Out of the blue, I get cold sores on my lips and under my nose. There are several good over the counter remedies such as Campho-Phenique, but I have found using fresh aloe gel from a split leaf of the aloe plant also cures them. Every household should have an aloe plant…..they are good for a lot of things, like cuts, scrapes, sore throats, etc.

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