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How Can You Forestall an Ugly Cold Sore?

Readers offer many different home remedies to ward off an ugly cold sore. Which one will work for you, or will you try medication?

Cold sores are such a common complaint that they get very little attention from the medical profession unless something goes horribly wrong. These unsightly lesions are caused by an outbreak of herpes simplex virus. It hangs out in the body unnoticed until the immune system lets down its guard, perhaps because of sun exposure or stress. Then up pops the painful, ugly cold sore.

There are prescription medications that can be used to prevent cold sores. This makes sense for a person who gets them very frequently. Sometimes these drugs, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), the cream penciclovir (Denavir) or valacyclovir (Valtrex), can be used to speed healing. That is most convenient if the drug is already on hand; otherwise, waiting for a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription could make the drug irrelevant. Nonprescription drugs such as docosanol (Abreva) may also speed healing. Our readers have suggested many home remedies that might work about as well.

Home Remedies for an Ugly Cold Sore:

Q. I have a friend who is beautiful with fabulous skin, but when she goes on summer vacation at the beach she gets horrific cold sores that last for a week or more. It is hard not to stare when she has one on her lip.

I would like to give her some advice but at the same time I don’t want to intrude. I have read in your column about L-lysine but don’t know much about it or other simple remedies.

A. Home remedies are highly variable. What works for one person may not work for someone else.

Many readers report that taking the amino acid L-lysine at the first sign of a tingle can either prevent an outbreak or speed healing. One reader reported, however:

“I tried L-lysine but it was no help. At the first sign of the next cold sore, I applied coconut oil and it was like magic. The cold sore was gone in a few hours.”

Some people have found that drinking buttermilk can help. Others sing the praises of eating kiwi fruit, either to prevent or treat an ugly cold sore. Those who use L-lysine recommend skimping on foods rich in the amino acid arginine when a cold sore threatens. That would mean forgoing nuts and chocolate.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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