How to Avoid (and Treat) Cold Sores

by Andrea Karim on 16 August 2011 84 comments

There it is — that horrible tingling sensation that lets you know a cold sore is about to erupt all over your face, ruining the next week and making you wish that burqas were suddenly in fashion for a short while. Is there anything more annoying than a cold sore?

I got my first cold sore when I was 8 years old, right in the corner of my mouth. It was horrible — ugly, painful, and because of the location, it took almost a month to heal. Every time I would open my mouth, my sore would split open. I still have scar tissues from that thing.

Up until a couple of years ago, I used to get cold sores frequently. It got so bad that I started forming some scar tissue above my lip where the sore would reappear every couple of months. However, once I figured out what triggered them, and how to prevent them, my outbreaks were greatly reduced. More importantly, I can treat them when they do appear, so recovery is much faster and less painful. (See also: Cheap and Simple Sunburn Remedies That Really Work)

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Yes, the cold sore virus is very similar to the virus that causes genital herpes. HSV-1 causes cold sores, HSV-2 causes genital herpes, although in some cases, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes as well. If you have one version of the herpes virus doesn't indicate you also have the other version of the virus. However, it's easy to transmit the viral infection from one area of the body to another through contact, be it direct or indirect (sexual contact or accidental contamination of an area with infected bodily fluid).

Herpes simplex 1 is phenomenally easy to catch. Most people are infected with HSV-1 as a child, through shared food or drink with a contagious carrier. Many people will catch the virus and never display an outbreak of lesions that indicate the presence of HSV-1. Others will show an immediate sign of infection through a lesion on the face, usually on the lips. Cold sores can also occur around other facial mucous membranes, like the nostrils or eyes (known as ocular herpes, which sounds cooler than "eyeball herpes"). Cold sores are not to be confused with canker sores, which typically appear on the inside of the mouth.

The bad news about HSV-1 (other than the fact that it is very damaging to the nervous system) is how easy it is to transmit. The good news is that, with some care, you can avoid lesion outbreaks — or at the very least, shorten any cold sore outbreaks that may occur.

Cold Sore Triggers

What are the most common cold sore triggers? Cold sores are triggered by a number of different causes, but most of them have to do with your body being negatively stressed in some way. Because viruses love to attack when you are weak, the HSV-1 waits until your immune system is suffering, and then works its evil, painful magic on your face.

Fever/Illness

Cold sores aren't called "cold sores" for nothing — they typically make their arrival when you are suffering from another viral infection, be it a cold or flu. HSV-1 loves a good fever, so if you find yourself with an elevated temperature, take a fever reducer like Advil to lessen your chances of experiencing a cold sore outbreak.

UV Rays

Bright sunlight triggers many a lip lesion, so use plenty of lip balm at the highest concentration SPF that you can find. I also slather my upper lip with SPF 40 sunblock every morning, because I never know when I might end up outside* for an extended period of time. (This is a joke — I never go outside.)

Cold Weather

Cold, harsh weather can also wreak havoc on lip health, and once your lip cracks, HSV-1 is only happy to add insult to injury. Keeping lips moisturized with a medicated ointment like Blistex or Carmex can prevent damage to your lips. Keep your mouth covered in extremely cold, windy conditions. And the instructions for using a high-level SPF on your skin don't end with warm weather — cold, sunny days in the snow are perfect ingredients for a cold sore recipe. Harsh, UV rays reflecting off of snow, mixed with freezing cold, dry air? Cold sore perfect storm.

Stress

You might not expect emotional stress to contribute to skin lesions, but it can. Although there is often no way to remove stressors from your life, if you can find a way to stay calm and carry on (as the British would say...when they are not rioting), you can probably prevent a cold sore from appearing. Deep breathing and meditating exercises won't take more than 15 minutes out of your day, and can lower your blood pressure, too. The emotional stress of PMS is often enough to cause outbreaks in women. If you can track your menstrual cycle well enough to figure out which days are going to be the worst ones, emotionally, you may be able to work in a couple extra hours of stress-reliving fun to balance out the mood roller coaster.

Injury to Delicate Facial Tissues

At one point, I noticed that I was coming down with a cold sore after every single time I had sex — this was a big disappointment, because I was beginning to believe that perhaps sex was causing my cold sores. And it was, in a way. My husband had a beard at the time, and our passionate lip-locking would irritate my skin so much that I broke out in a cold sore within a few hours of sexy-time. He is now required to wax his face and exfoliate with a floor sander. (No, really, we're just more careful with the smooching.)

Some people have noticed cold sores after extensive dental work (not quite as fun as sex, but just as necessary to your health). This is because damage to the delicate tissue of the lips and mouth are like an open invitation to HSV-1.

Reducing the Cold Sore's Duration

Once you feel a cold sore coming on, you have a couple of hours to intervene. After that, any measures you take will be a bit less effective. The usual rules for healing apply here — keep the cold sore clean and don't touch it. Spreading bacteria to the lesion will just make things worse. As to whether you prefer to keep the infected area moisturized or not, well, that's up to you. Moisture can slow healing, but it does prevent cracking, so just make sure to use a medicated cream. Wash hands before and after applying. In addition to keeping clean, you can look to:

Anti-viral Prescription Medicines

The most expensive, but by far the most effective, anti-viral cold sore prescription drugs were originally created to help people survive agonizing outbreaks of genital herpes. But because the viral structure is similar, you can now use the same medications for HSV-1 outbreaks, as well. These medications include Famciclovirand (Famvir), acyclovir (Zovirax), and Valacyclovir (Valtrex). Although these medications come in oral tablet form, acyclovir is also available as an ointment.

After having spent years dealing with extremely painful and damaging cold sores, I finally got a prescription for acyclovir from my doctor. What a difference acyclovir made! Since getting my hands on a tube of Zovirax, I have only had one cold sore that actually reached full-on blister stage, and that was because it formed while I was sleeping.

Acyclovir is a simple ointment that you apply to your tingling lip when you feel a cold sore coming on. If you apply soon enough, you can prevent the actual outbreak altogether. Even after the outbreak, acyclovir can shorten the life of a cold sore dramatically. It used to take me two weeks to fully heal from a cold sore, and now that time has been cut in half, and the damage done to my skin is much less dramatic.

The downside is the Zovirax is NOT cheap, and my insurance insists on a pretty high co-pay. For me, it's worth the $60 — a single tube lasts for a couple of years.

Non-prescription Creams

Over-the-counter cold sore ointments that can shorten the life of a cold sore include Docosanol (Abreva), which can prevent cold sores if applied early enough, and Benzyl alcohol (Zilactin), which may shorten healing time. It seems that millions of people believe that Carmex is an effective cold sore treatment, as well. Ointments that contain zinc oxide may reduce the duration of the blister.

Natural Remedies

I have heard that many people have had luck in taking a large dose of L-lysine supplements upon the outbreak of a cold sore, but I have had zero luck with this method. L-lysine and other all-natural cold sore remedies have not be proven to effectively treat or prevent cold sore breakouts.

Preventing Infection

If you've already got a cold sore somewhere on your body, you don't want to infect other body part, or anyone else around you. A cold sore is contagious from the time that a blister forms until it has crusted over, and during that time, you'll have countless opportunities to spread the HSV-1 virus to your loved ones or your other delicate body parts.

Be smart! Don't cross-contaminate.

Don't Share Food, Drink, Utensils

When you get a cold sore, don't share cups, glasses, forks, plates, chopsticks, food, anything with anyone else. Just don't. Be your own little island until that lesion has healed completely. Technically, the cold sore's infectious stage starts when the blister forms and ends when it crusts over, but don't take any chances.

Hands

Stop touching your cold sore. Stop it. Now wash your hands. With soap. Dry them on a paper towel.

Towels

I said a paper towel, why don't you listen to me? Fine, now you have to wash that hand towel. Any time you wash your face, if you dry it using a normal towel, throw that towel in the wash. You can spread that virus pretty much anywhere else if your cold sore leaks onto your bath towel.

Cold sores are a pain, and a painful fact of life for many of us, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of Carmex, so follow these steps and kiss your cold sores goodbye.

Well, no, I mean, don't kiss them.

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Guest's picture

Oh, I hate cold sores. I recently got one in my eye (http://rainintorainbows.com/2011/05/12/cold-sores-in-my-eye/). I had never heard of that before, but you can be sure I'll be super careful next time I get a cold sore. Thanks for sharing this info.

Guest's picture
PK

I wish I got a pre-eruption tingle. I get no warning whatsoever (and I've been getting coldsores since I was 7 and my grandfather kissed me on the mouth with a coldsore on his lip (he thought it was sunburn blisters) - some 33 years now), and my last one - the one I'm just getting over now - went from absolutely nothing (no tingle, no sign at all) to a fully-blistered coldsore in LESS than an hour! I never even get the chance to treat the tingle :(

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm so sorry to hear that! That sounds miserable. Have you ever tried prescription creams to shorten the length of the cold sore's existence?

(Sunburn blisters ARE cold sores - same thing)

Guest's picture

I don't get the tingle either. I wish that I did. Mine are usually visible before I even start feeling it.

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't get the tingle I dont know I have one till I can see it or its hurts which makes it harder to get rid of . cold sore night patches work well for me as we'll as Zovirax during the day

Guest's picture
SmallAxe

I have had cold sores for years now and later in life once I became more health conscious I discovered that L-Lysine is the amino acid that is depleted when an outbreak occurs or is about to.

L-Lysine ointments are available and I can say from 25 yrs experience (I am now 36) that this works better than any over the counter or prescription remedies.

L-Lysine can also be found in many foods, but my favorite is Quinoa, which is also one of the best complete proteins available, and makes a great cold salad base.

Andrea Karim's picture

L-lysine, as I mention in the article, hasn't been proven effective in treating cold sores at all. I don't if any long-term preventative studies have been done on it, though.

Quinoa is awesome.

Guest's picture
SmallAxe

My comments come from personal experience, and this method has worked better than any other method I have tried.

I wonder if there is another amino acid, vitamin, or mineral involved that the virus feeds on or depletes that might help you if it were replaced/replenished.

If you find another I would love to know, since preventative methods are better than treating after the outbreak?

Guest's picture
Guest3

I make quinoa all the time with fresh veggies and a tangy sauce.

Guest's picture
Guest

I found this help full. Lysin helps get rid of it and arginine feeds it. They also list natural food for both.

http://www.wikihow.com/Reduce-Cold-Sores-Naturally

http://www.disabled-world.com/medical/alternative/homeremedies/cold-sore...

Guest's picture
Guest

This is an old post but lysine works get don't take it just when you get a cold sore every day and if a sore forms take 2 a day, along with staying away from wheat, rice and well long list you can find online. Also take vitamin A, C and E along with calcium, even camomile pills and drink Black tea or grey tea. Also tea tea oil works wonders. I get them in my nose and I stick to all that and it goes away in 3 to 4 days and get them every 6 months unless the weather becomes cold and then warm back to cold and well I get one but still only 3 to 4 days. I had them for 20 years and Doctors try to give me the we got cream and meds for it but they never worked I did trail and error and found natural and vitamins works way better.

Guest's picture
Julie

Great article. I read it all as I also have suffered. Just to be a little different I get them on my left ear. Sometimes awful. Discover another trick ...if you can take the time when you first feel them coming on, apply an ice pack. It's supposed to cause the virus to retreat back to the nerve cells (or wherever it is they hangout.) Seems to work for me. Oh and retirement made a huge difference too. Have only had two since I retired two and a half years ago. That supports the stress theory right?

Guest's picture
lemontree

A suggestion that may work for some of you, because it usually works for me-- drink lots of water. I often get cold sores when my lips are dry and I am dehydrated. If I drink a couple of glasses of water immediately upon feeling the first tingle, many times it will stave off an outbreak, or sometimes just make it less severe.

Guest's picture
Guest

Coconut oil works wonders on cold sores and will even keep them away when you feel one starting. Coconut oil is also excellent on killing bacteria that causes acne so you can feel good about putting it on your face.

Guest's picture
Umbagog

You're right about the coconut oil, of course. So many people suffer with cold sores, and yet this remedy is ignored by almost everyone.

Guest's picture
PK

@ Andrea Karim - we don't have prescription creams for cold sores here in Australia. Zovirax is an over-the-counter cream in a 2g (1/15oz)) tube (about $15), but it has limited effectiveness unless the coldsore gets treated early. If, like me, they come on too quick and have no tingle to treat, this limits how effective the Zovirax is - and for me, it helps maybe 25% of the time (which is better than nothing, of course). There are one or two prescription oral antiviral medications, but so far none have been approved for oral herpes - only genital herpes. I've tried the ice trick mentioned by Julie, but it has no effect on me since I can never get to them early enough. I've never had one appear during waking hours, either - they *always* appear while I am sleeping! Unfortunately, I do not react well to stress of any kind, especially work-related, and cold sores are the result for me...

Andrea Karim's picture

Have you tried applying ointment during stressful time? Whenever a get a cold or the flu, I keep the ointment with me at all times, and occasionally rub a bit around the corner of my lips, even before I get a tingle at all, or at the very first sign of discomfort. Because I've had so many cold sores over the years, I sometimes get tingling when there is no cold sore on the way - it's just lousy nerve damage. But I try to keep the ointment around, just in case.

I'm glad to know that anti-viral meds are cheaper in other countries - the US is well known for our government's devotion to Big Pharma and their drug patents/profits. They keep renewing the patents on inhalers for asthma attacks, ensuring that it will always cost about $40 for a basic albuterol inhaler. It's inhumane.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was getting outbreaks every few months. Then I read that a lack of B vitamin can trigger a cold sore. After reading that, I started taking an over the counter multi-vitamin (Centrum or generic). Now I only get an outbreak once or twice a year. When that happens, I can count on my acyclovir!

Guest's picture
Susan Michaelson

Loved this article, your writing style and that you hit every point. You wrote what I know as a life long cold sore-ette but really haven't seen mentioned elsewhere, from mentioning moisture prolongs healing but prevents cracking to throwing towels in the laundry if you've dried your face with one when you have a cold sore, using a paper towel when possible. But, have to disagree with you on a few points. First, everyone's different when it comes to how long it takes for the cold sore to emerge from the tingling symptom. I only have 20 minutes, while I've talked to those who report a full day, even one who said the next day. Next, you may not have been successful with lysine but I know people who swear by it. And last, that all-natural cold sore remedies have not be proven to effectively treat or prevent cold sore breakouts....that's just so wrong. Quantum Health makes some natural cold sore remedies that testimonials demonstrate do work, even to prevent. And then there's what I use, an herbal remedy called Cold Sores Begone. It's prevented all of my cold sores from materializing for the last 13 years or so. I just apply it at the tingle. BTW, its only $10.99. Talk about waking up with a cold sore, used to happen to me once or twice a year. Years ago, I experimented by putting on Cold Sores Begone every night before bed. Haven't awakened with a cold sore since. The thing is this, what works for one may not work for another. I've tried accupuncture for several different ailments, but it has never worked for me. I know it has provided a world of good for many others. It is what it is.

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Susan,

Thanks for commenting. I'd love to see some controlled medical experiments that prove the effectiveness of all-natural cold sore treatments. So far, I haven't seen any, so I don't feel good recommending that people purchase and use these products.

I often apply my anti-viral prescription ointment at the first sign of a tingle, but then, on a couple occasions when I haven't, I still haven't gotten any cold sores (so, I still have to wait until a bump appears to know that a cold sore is on the way). My point, I think, is that I get the tingling quite often, possibly due to nerve damage from so many cold sores, so it can be hard for me to distinguish when I am getting a cold sore and when I'm not. I know it has still staved off a couple, though, because when the skin on my lip is raised, I slap that ointment on it ASAP.

I know a few people who swear by L-Lysine as well, but I can't recommend it without there being any independent medical proof that it works. If a study appears that proves it is effective in preventing or treating cold sores, I will promote the heck out of it.

My husband and I fight about acupuncture all the time; I say it's a placebo, he swears he no linger gets seasonal allergies.

Guest's picture
Guest

Where do you buy the Cold Sores Begone?

Thank you for your help!

Guest's picture
Mandy W.

Good article - thanks! My husband won't even kiss me when he even thinks he might be getting a cold sore! Because of his cautiousness, the kids and I have thankfully been spared. We keep Abreeva on hand at all times, and a while back I found some medicated over-night "patches" that you stick on with water so that you don't rub the medicine off while you are sleeping. Because he is diligent about catching them early, he rarely gets full-blown sores anymore. I didn't know about the prescription options. Next time he has to go to the doctor for something, I will remind him to ask about getting something to keep on hand.

Guest's picture
LD

My husband and I used to get cold sores ALL the time. We'd share them back and forth for months! We're on the water a lot so most of the time the culprit was sun. I had sort of a "DOH!" moment when I realized it, and now we are both religious about applying high SPF lip balm whenever we're out. I really should buy it by the gross.

But sometimes we forget or it wears off, and occasionally stress is the cause, so we still get them from time to time. I've long had a prescription for acyclovir (pills) which works wonders for us. Our 'lead time' is longer than some here - a day - so if we're good about taking the pills, we can really knock down the size and severity of the blister. Rarely does it prevent them altogether, sadly, but I remember the bad old days and NEVER let my scrip run low. Abreva has also been a godsend, but I ran out recently and tried the 3M version - total crap. It did numb the area but did nothing for healing.

Now when either of us gets sores, we isolate our lips - no kissing, no sharing drinks, etc. Air kisses only! His last one (stress-caused and sun-enhanced) has lasted quite awhile as we were on a boat and couldn't get to a store to get Abreva. During the worst of it, I took an acyclovir pill once a day as a preventative measure and I didn't break out.

I've tried L-lysine and a number of other holistic treatments and they didn't do a thing.

Another suggestion: take Advil to reduce the swelling of the lip. I always feel a little run down on the first day or two of a cold sore, and I've found Advil helps with the pain and swelling. Not tons, but any relief is welcome when you know you're going to look like a leper for a couple weeks!

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't be too quick to knock the natural remedies. Pharmaceutical companies often do clinical trials on their own products, so don't expect to see them done on natural remedies anytime soon. But (most) at least won't harm, so it's worth a shot.

Lemon balm is a potent anti-viral (my opinion is that the drug companies don't want us to know about it) and myself and everyone I know has had major success with it on cold sores. Since this is a frugal living site- you can easily grow lemon balm in your garden or in a small pot in your home. It grows from seeds or cuttings, and you can keep propagating the same plant from cuttings over and over. I just crush up a few fresh leaves with my fingers until they are nice and juicy, then hold it like a poultice on the sore for 10 minutes or so twice a day. Reduces the duration dramatically, and seems to keep it at bay for a long time after using it on a sore. You can also buy lemon balm hydrosols (water based, so not so owie to apply as essential oils) from natural product companies. I also make the lemon balm into a tea when I feel a cold coming on, and more than once it seems to have staved it off.

But perhaps most importantly, that you touched on, is boosting your immune system when you feel one coming on. Eat and drink like you're getting a cold- amp up the vitamins, eat your honey, be good to your body, get lots of rest. This will be the best thing for reducing the severity and duration of your outbreak.

Cheers

Andrea Karim's picture

I honestly believe that, if there were natural remedies that were effective in treating actual maladies, drug manufacturers would have pinpointed the exact ingredient and patented it years ago - there is no end to their greed. It's not that I don't WANT natural remedies to work; it's just that there is no proof that they do. You think the manufacturers of vitamins can't afford to pay for studies to see if their L-Lysine helps prevent cold sores? They can, but they won't.

Just because something is "natural", though, doesn't mean that it won't do any harm. And even if an ineffective treatment doesn't physically harm someone, spending money on useless herbs and tinctures is financially harmful, so I try to advise against it whenever possible.

Guest's picture
Susan Michaelson

Andrea - I appreciate your need for proven facts. With that said, as someone else pointed out, don't hold your breath waiting for them for many of the remedies on the market. I used to work at a research hospital and learned that many manufacturers are small businesses that can't afford the millions of dollars and time it requires to do animal and clinical testing. Also, you can't patent an herbal remedy, so there's no money in it for a pharmaceutical company to pursue. In the meantime, a poor cold sore sufferer can be waiting, and waiting, and waiting and hurting and feeling self-conscious. There are many newer cold sore remedies on the market now that offer positive testimonials and most if not all the remedies offer money back guarantees. There's no reason not to start now working your way through them to see which one hits the sweet spot for you. As I mentioned before, my HG is Cold Sores Begone which prevents it at the tingle. It's not all natural BTW, there's an ingredient on the label called Methylparaben. It's a preservative, and have noticed that 'parabens' are not popular ingredients right now in the natural health world, but frankly, the ability to prevent a cold sore from emerging is my priority, period.

Guest's picture
Guest

I too was plagued with cold sores from the time I could crawl. I found that stress and my monthly period would bring them on, as well as cherry tomatoes and the sun. I used to get one or two every two months, lasting 10 days to 2 weeks. As soon as it healed, I often was "blessed" with a second one. By then a month had gone by. The next month it would start over again. I tried anything and everything, but nothing seemed to work. Then in 1985, a friend told me to try Lysine. He said there were studies done that seemed to suggest that Lysine could prevent outbreaks. I decided what have I got to lose, although I was sure it wouldn't work. Well, guess what? It did! Today, I remain mostly cold sore free. This is how I did it: I started out taking one tablet of 500 milligrams each day. It took a few months of consistently taking it before I realized that I was no longer getting cold sores. About 10 years later, I started breaking out again, so I upped the dose to 1000 milligrams. That seemed to work and for the last 15 or so years, that dose has worked for me. One of the things I learned along the way is you have to be consistent with taking it every single day. At times, I would run out or be too lazy to take my lysine, and guess what? In a couple of days, I got a cold sore. Now, I'm not saying this will work for everyone, but it sure worked for me.

Andrea Karim's picture

You know, I have had more than one friend swear by Lysine. I have never gotten the slightest bit of help from it - if anything, it has actually lengthened the duration of my cold sores. That said, I've definitely gotten enough anecdotal evidence that it works for some people.

Guest's picture
silentkiller

I'm 38 and I've been a longtime cold sore sufferer as well. It probably started when I was a teenager. My mom gets it too so I probably got it from her. I would say initially my symptoms were worse and more frequent but by the time i was in the my early twenties, I was getting them maybe 3-4 times a year, which wasn't awful but was still the bane of my existence. About 10 years ago, I heard about Lysine as well and started taking it, about 500mg-1000mg a day (I would take 1000mg for days when I'm feeling stressed out). I definitely noticed a difference that first year, I only got a cold sore once which was a first for me. After that, I was getting it maybe 1-2 times a year, so it certainly seemed to be helping. Then about 2 years ago, I had a particularly bad outbreak - 2 spots on different parts of my lips - it was the worse I've ever gotten. It was a very stressful time for me since I was going through a breakup and selling my house at the same time (!!!). Anyways, I went to the doctor and she subscribed acyclovir. I took it and the cold sores seemed to heal pretty quickly after that. Since then, I've been taking a small dosage (400mg) every few days or so (more often if I'm feeling stressed out). I'm also still taking 500mg lysine on top of that. Anyways, it's been almost 2 years and (knock on wood) still no cold sores!

Andrea Karim's picture

I wonder if some people get cold sores in reaction to a Lysine deficiency? Taking Lysine supplements has definitely had no effect for me, but it really does seem to do the trick for some people.

Guest's picture
silentkiller

Oh I forgot to mention that I also started taking a B vitamin supplement after reading an article about how people with B vitamin deficiencies tend to get cold sores more often. Anyways, it could be that or the lysine or the acyclovir or a combination of the three, but it seems like it's working so far!

Guest's picture
Guest

The last two cold sores I had, I treated successfully with a cotton bud dipped into hydrogen peroxide (just the cheap 3% drugstore kind). I would swab the tingly part of my lip for a few minutes at a time, and did this 5 or 6 times throughout the day. I went through a lot of cotton buds, as I did not "double dip"!

The website from which I got this idea says that virus's, including herpes, do not survive well in an "oxygenated" environment, which the hydrogen peroxide provides.

The first time I tried this treatment, by the end of the first day, I knew there would be no blisters appearing, it worked incredibly fast.

The second time, however...I woke up to tiny cluster of blisters but still swabbed with the peroxide throughout the day. The second day I did not have time to be as committed to swabbing, and so got maybe two sessions in.

The third day, the blisters hadn't grown very much at all, thankfully. By day 4, the blisters were gone (I has continued swabbing as often as I could).

I've had cold sores on and off since junior high school, and I'm 46 now. I'm so, so thankful to find something that works.

It's super cheap and worth a try!

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks for the tip! I had never heard of that treatment. Glad you found something that works.

Guest's picture
Guest

You have no idea what you are talking about. Once you are infected with the HSV 1 virus you build up antibodies and it is virtually impossible to transmit it to other body parts, it is very unlikely and rare unless you have just contracted the virus and haven't had time to build those antibodies yet. But once you have the antibodies, it would be very hard to spread it to other body parts. Get your information straight or stop writing about stuff you don't know.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thank you so much for your extremely well-researched and thoughtful argument.

I've actually heard from reputable sources that the virus can and can't be spread after the initial infection.

Can: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/cold-sores-topic-ov...
Can't: http://www.hopkinsbayview.org/infectiousdiseases/rti/herpes.html#Canherp...

I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Guest's picture
Guest

I get cold sores maybe 5 times a year or so, and i absolutely despise them. I have tried every trick in the book, researched it to no end, and watched the results fail again and again.

Recently I have discovered the best possible way to stop a cold sore from being full blown and gross.

What I do is as soon as i feel that tingle, (this is going to sound disgusting, but it works!) I put earwax on the affected area. If the sore consists, I ice it until it is no longer bearable, or until completely numb haha. After this, I use a cotton tip to apply tea tree oil on the cold sore as often as possible. I did this today, and my cold sore looks completely non-existent! I am amazed! I'm telling you, this method has worked better than any medicine or anything. I am so relieved that i have finally found something that works for me!

I also take L-Lystine and apply carmex (BEST COLD SORE CREAM) until it completely goes away.

Other things I have tried that could work is tea bags, hand sanitiser (really dries it out), toothpaste, or nail polish remover

Guest's picture
Guest

What would you apply to the cold sore when it reaches the blister/weeping stage? Should you try to dry it out or keep it moist?

Andrea Karim's picture

I try to keep mine moisturized but dry, if that makes any sense.

Guest's picture
Susan Michaelson

It's a personal choice. You can try to let it dry out which will make it heal a day or two faster, but it's a gamble. It increases the risk the scab over the sore will crack open. It's painful, and will delay your healing time by 3-4 days or so. Back when I used to get cold sores, an ointment such as Carmex, kept them moist and comfortable until they healed.

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Guest

Ive tried a q-tip dipped in mouthwash when i feel the tingling, held it there for 5-10mins and the cold sore didnt appear... Ive tried over the counter medicine and some home remedies and this one worked best for me

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Lara

As soon as I feel the tingle, sometimes even just when I feel tired or stressed out I apply clay on my lips. It has very often prevented the cold sore to come out or at least reduce the time of healing.
Thank for your information.

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Guest

I believe you can now purchase Zovirax on line for a lot less. I bought mine which is sold over the counter at the drug store in Germany for $7 each.
Needless to stay I bought their remaining boxes because it's very expensive
In the US.

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Guest

hi andrea. I loved your article. yes informatice, which was helpful, but very very funny! I loved it. would like to know where I could read more of your stuff. wish there were more writers out there with the same fresh sense of humour.

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Absu

I use tea tree oil on cold sores. It numbs it a bit and makes it go away much more quickly.

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Dora@

Hy everyone! I suffered from cold sores since my childhood. Fortunately, the outbursts have decreased during the years, but i noticed that they used to reapear after i go to the dentist. How could i avoid that. I have heard of products based on Aloa vera , but never have tried it. Does anybody had experioence with it?

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Dora,

It's actually really common to get cold sores after seeing the dentist. It's hard to avoid, but sometimes you can convince your dentist to be a little gentler to avoid upsetting the skin around your mouth. I've heard that some people have luck in putting lip balm or Vaseline on first, because the added moisture can help your lips stretch during your exam/cleaning without causing as mush stress to the soft skin.

Another option might be getting a prescription medication and applying it pre-emptively. That's what I do. But you'd have to talk to your doctor.

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Guest alec santus

Hi, And thank you for all your help I suffer from the dreaded cold soure, my lips have quite bad scar tissue due to the dam things, and the pain wow the pain. I was wondering if I could have an operation to sort out the nerv ends that sends the cold soure virous to the lips. Or do I just keep a tube of cream with me at all times and use it the same as my wife uses a lip balm. Thank you all the best Alec.

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Edwin

I get cold sores atleast about 4 times a year and of course I hate them. So in my research I have learned that arginine in our body helps to exacerbate outbreaks and that certain foods that are high in arginine can encourage an outbreak. So I've had to research which foods that I've been eating contain arginine. For me that mainly is peanut butter and chocolate. Been real careful and have been staying away from it. Though recently I bought a chocolate flavored coffee not thinking about what chocolate does and after about a week or less of drinking it got an outbreak. So needless to say I realized what I was drinking and stopped drinking it. I've also been taking l-lysine and as I understand it has to be a fairly high dose but I don't know exactly how much so I just take 2000 mg a day. It's suppose to block the arginine. I think in principle it's sound. The cold sores erupt when the arginine in our body is high so we have to cut back on what foods have arginine in them and add l-lysine which blocks the arginine so if we are doing both we theoretically should have atleast fewer outbreaks. Anyone understand this more than I please feel free to share.

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Guest

Acyclovir pills work wonders for me. I take a 200mg pill every other day or so - sometimes daily when I'm feeling tired and/or stressed out. I used to get cold sores 2-3 times a year, but since taking the pills, I've only had one very minor outbreak in the past 2 years. In fact, it was the smallest outbreak I've ever had. I didn't even have to take a day off from work because it was barely noticeable and was completely healed in just a few days. This has never ever happened to me in the life. Usually my outbreaks last 1-2 weeks. You need a prescription for it tho.

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Jeanne

I've been a cold sore sufferer since the beginning of time and your advice is spot on. Entertaining, too.

Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience.

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Charles

Thank you for this article. The comical parts of it (about touching the cold sore & using a towel) helped to make me feel a little better today. I got my first cold sores in July. I freaked out, ran and got tested for every STD, and everything came back negative, but its obvious these are cold sores. Since July (so over the past 3 months) I've had a good 6 outbreaks, and its starting to wear on me a little emotionally. I'm 27, single, and keep wondering how I will meet someone if I keep getting blisters on my lips. I started using Abreva and that seems to help with healing them pretty quickly and not becoming a full blown cold sore, but they keep recurring every couple of weeks. I need to invest in a high SPF for my lips-- I'm constantly outside playing tennis in the sun so I'm thinking that might be why I have an outbreak right now. I'm also in school, so I think the stress of that is not helping matters either. Didn't mean to come on here and be kinda negative, everyone else's posts is very encouraging, but I haven't really been able to talk about my issue with anyone. Anyway, thank you for the article, it helped put a smile on my face today.

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Guest

Great article. I use Llysine tablets and Llysine lip balm to keep cold sores under control. Also make sure you take Vitamin C tablets too to keep your imune system at full strength.

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Studied microbiology

Having oral herpes is actually might be a blessing in disguise because it is much less likely that you will have genital herpes. I learned about viruses in my undergrad as a biology major. Also, many people acquire the virus early on like when a baby gets passed around and receives a lot of kisses from relatives. It is not always avoidable and a lot of people have it. Better than genital herpes though I'd say.

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Guest

I have spent the money on expensive oral antiviral medications (Valtrex) and found that the window for use is either too small or nonexistant. If I had the medication on hand and took it right away it worked, but that is hard to do. I now use oil of Oregano which is digusting, but easily as effective as the Valtrex and can be used regularly as a preventative measure. I used to get cold sores from exposure to the sun, now I only get one rarely when my immune system is especially compromised. Oil of Oregano is not cheap either, but is a fraction of the cost of prescription medication.

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Guest

Just an an anecdotal observation to add about L-Lysine. I supplement Lysine for muscle building purposes and have noticed no benefit for the prevention or treatment of cold sores. If it works for you, keep doing it. It has not worked for me.

Andrea Karim's picture

That was my experience as well.

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Guest

I have had 3 in less than a year. Before that, 1 at age 40 and another 10 years later. Thats it. I become a basket case when I get them. I am over vigilant and afraid of spread to myself or spouse. Im not sure how to shower, wash my face or hair and dry, thinking, did the towel just touch it? Washing hands constantly. My bro is on daily acyclovir as preventative. I wanted this but doc said no, but I have used acyclovir 5 times a day with last obe and it cut time to 5 days with nothing blistery I could even see. What I need to know is what is good hygiene without going overboard. I wear no makeup or moisturizer during outbreak, afraid of contamination.

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Kristinaane

I have been suffering from cold sores for years I dont even remember the first time. I recently went 2 years with non and now i have had 4 within the past MONTH. I currently have 2 that are healing and i feel the tingling right now. Sometimes if i catch the tingling and put ice on it they wont come out. I recently had a lot of stress, depression and anxiety so i am sure that has a lot to do with the sores. But they are SO ugly. I dont even want to leave my desk at work when i get them!

Andrea Karim's picture

I feel your pain, quite literally! I just came down with another cold sore (the fourth since my daughter was born) and I didn't catch it in time to get medication on it. Now I just want to hide out. :)

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Guest

I currently have 8 coldsores right now. Yes 8!! I thought it was just the one until I saw little bumps along the bottom of my lip. This is the worst I've ever had it and I really feel like I've been punched!
I swear by betadine. I've had coldsores since I was a teen and zovirax and tablets never worked for me. Thankfully my aunty introduced me to betadine and it would always prevent them from breaking out. The only negative is the colour and it really dries the lip out, but id rather that than a break out!
Lately though it doesn't seem to be working as good! this is the 2nd outbreak I've had in a month. Usually I only get them once a year. I was out in the sun over the weekend so I blame the uv rays.. I had 30+spf lip balm on but mustn't have worked.
This is just the worst thing ever! It gets to the point where I can't go into work because I constantly need to keep reapplying and if I'm at work I feel like I'm not doing the best job with tackling it. Also who wants to walk around the office with a huge swollen lip covered in brown liquid!
Fingers crossed all 8 coldsores go down tonight.
Oh and I wouldn't even consider it a cluster as they are all individual lumps. Lucky me!! I just want to crawl under a rock and die!

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Guest

Hello Cold-Sore Sufferers!

I have read this article, as well as many others, along with the comments provided. I have been a prisoner by my cold sores since I was 8 years old (I am now 20 years old). There are some previously mentioned remedies I have yet to try and also several antibiotics/ointments to take. However, I stand by the fact that drying out the cold-sore is the best way to go. Sometimes I try to put an icepack on it to keep it from swelling. Sometimes it works for me, other times it doesn't. I just had one pop up this morning and am having to treat it now. The thing that works best for me, thanks to my Aunt Lisa, is to put a cotton ball soaked in Vinegar and leave on the cold sore. It kills the bacteria while also drying it out and decreasing the appearance of the cold sore. Unfortunately, I have no vinegar at the moment to treat mine, but you best believe I will try using nail polish remover as an alternative for now until I go to the store. Hope this helps someone, it was life-changing for me!

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Guest

Try Vicks VapoRub ointment as soon as you feel one coming on. Gob it on and let it sit there. Put it on overnight. It has stopped some before they started for me and has greatly reduced the severity of ones that popped out before I could catch them. It stinks, but it works. I read this tip in a forum where others were swearing by it.

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Guest

Didn't really teach me anything I didn't know. I've had coldsores since I was a kid as well. Any thoughts on the Coconut thing?
Abreva used to work for me, but I find its ability to stop a coldsore in its tracks has gone down hill since I first started using it.
I have found that Cold Sore FX works amazingly ( $25 a tube in canada) I put it on before I go to bed on most nights, and it drastically reduces the occurrences of the outbreaks ( I find that my warning tingle usually happens when I'm sleeping, so I don't have a chance to stop it otherwise). It also can be used at first tingling or throughout, unlike abreva.
Polysporin has healing patches now, that I use, though they don't stick very well to the lips, they do prevent a scab from forming, so it doesn't look as bad, and usually goes away.

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Kelly

I use patches also I find it helps prevents the spread of the cold sore. I also use Hand sanitizer on my cold sore. I know it sounds abit crazy and sore but compared to the pain that I'm sure you all get with cold sores stinging for a few seconds is worth it. It also help dry out the sore before you put the patch on and helps kill some of the germs and aids in stopping it spreading. Since I've been using this with my patches have found my cold sores only last a week if im lucky (normally I get them quite bad and more than one at a time).

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Guest

I always get cold sores after dentist visits. It's making me not want to go back because I'm a model and I kind of need my face :(

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Guest

quick question; I've newly acquired HSV1 and am in the throes of first outbreak misery, with lesions inside my mouth, horribly inflamed gums and more lesions on my tongue as well as on, under and surrounding my tonsils. I'm worried about spreading the viral load to the outside parts of my lips and rest of my face (via sleep dribble due to other symptoms; TMI, sorry); my thoughts are pre-emtive zovirax application (I'm in Australia so can get it OTC and reasonably priced; thoughts?

Thanks

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm sorry to hear that you are experiencing such discomfort. However, if the lesions are inside of your mouth and on your tongue, then they are not cold sores. Cold sores occur on the outside of your mouth and lips.

If you have lesions inside of your mouth, those are usually canker sores. They could be caused by any number of problems - please see a doctor.

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Sarah Wright

I have found something that has stopped me cold sores (no cure unfortunately). It is a lip balm, I bought mine from the internet. I haven't had a cold sore for 9 months, I always got one a month no matter what I tried. Its called Presley Lip Balm.
www.presleylipbalm.co.uk

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Guest

I am so tired of cold sores. I've suffered from them since I was a child and they seem to have got worse in the past year since I started using Lysine. I typically get one at least every 3 weeks now and have these permanent lumps whenever these cold sores disappear. I also have these permanent lumps underneath my lips but not quite on the gum and it is very stressful which only causes more cold sores. I'm running out of ideas, I use Zovirax as soon as I feel my cold sore coming on but I'm seriously getting tired of having cold sore after cold sore. I even went ot the doctor a few months ago and they gave me acyclovir tablets which last 2 weeks but wouldn't give me a more permanent solution.

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Guest

Not sure of the solution but just a thought. Some cold sores are brought on by fever hence rise in temperature. You may be getting a cold sore with every menstrual cycle as your temperature rises just before ovlulation.

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Guest

Cold Sore Panic!

I have never had a cold sore in my life. But I recently found out that my young half-sister contracted the virus from sharing a drink with a friend. She is only 7 so she is not fully educated on how easy it is to spread them. She was visiting me for a bit and happened to get a cold sore the last day of her visit. I knew that meant I had to be careful about coming into contact with any possibly infected fluids. I love my baby sister and I wish I could do something to help but all I can really do is try to prevent myself or anyone else from getting it as well. Just by happen stance she was playing with this whistle in the back seat of the car and I was so exhausted by the end of the day I wasn't paying much attention. She handed me the whistle and asked me to play it. So, I did. And then I realized I shouldn't have done that. But it was too late then so I just went straight to the bathroom making sure I didn't lick my lips and washed my mouth out with a generic anti-septic mouth wash, then carefully with some hydrogen peroxide, and again with mouthwash. It might seem a bit drastic but I'd rather be safe than sorry. It has only been a day since then and I have not gotten a cold sore yet. But I wonder, when will I know? Have I contracted it? Is there something I can do that might cause a cold sore if I did become infected so that I would know I was infected?

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Guest

I didn't read anything here about vitamins but that is what has made a HUGE difference for me. I used to get at least one cold sore a month that would range from very mild to very horrific. I started taking Multi vitamins and extra Vitamin C for an exercise program I was on and after a while I noticed I wasn't getting any cold sores any more. I think my body was just deficient on nutrients and my immune system wasn't functioning at its prime.

For the past three years I've been taking a good multi vitamin and 1000 mg of Vitamin C religously every day and I've barely had any cold sores. Really the only time I've gotten any was when I was traveling for work for a week and forgot my vitamins and even those were very mild compared to the past. Also I haven't had a cold or the flu in the past three years whereas I used to get those periodically as well.

Also I used to notice that I would get cold sores the day after I would play racketball really hard. Eventually I realized I was sweating out all my electrolytes and depriving my immune system of nutrients so I made my own electrolyte soup. Bottle of water, teaspoon of sea salt, 1 tablet each of magnesium, zinc, calcium, 3 tablets of potassium. let sit for a few hours then shake. Drink right after working out. Doesn't taste bad and you feel better immediately. And no cold sores. :-)

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Jane

Great article! I've got a cold sore tingling below the surface and as a long-time sufferer, I'm doing all I can to prevent it from erupting. I wanted to mention that I do take L-Lysine. When I take it regularly, I don't get any outbreaks at all. When I quit taking it (I get tired of taking any kind of pills after a while), and I get stressed, I can feel one coming on. Then I take at least 3 pills per day, spread out through the day, sometimes even one in the night if I happen to wake up. Sometimes, if I simply can NOT reduce my stress soon enough, I will take 2 at a time for the first dose of the day for a couple days. I've found this really does work. I'm not a natural health nut ... I've just done a lot of research into this and found that lysine is an amino acid that your body uses to fight cold sores. If your diet hasn't provided enough, supplementing it helps. I've learned a lot from researching how my diet affects my outbreaks ... things to avoid: nuts, coffee, chocolate, sugar. I also take to my bed for some extra rest if time allows. Again, thanks for a great article! Well done.

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Guest

Holy cow some people are rude! I think I'm getting my first cold sore... yay me... and my partner gave me a bunch of lysine tabs. She swears by them, and I have to say that it seems to work for her... her cold sores tend to last only a couple days. Anyway, personally I agree with you, if lysine was a miracle cure then drug companies would have synthesized a replicant by now.

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Guest

Hello,

I moved over seas and can get VAltoval over the counter, I understand in most countries they don't prescribe this to just anyone. If you take one every day does it act as a preventative and has anyone had any side affects?

Thank you for the article and any further advice you can give me.

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Guest

pharacudical companies wont patent natural cures because they want you to buy their product. IT IS ACTUALLY CHEAPER TO CREATE A SYNTHETIC SUBSTANCE THEN TO EXTRACT A NATURAL ONE

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Guest

I have found that if you pinch the area right after you get the tingle for a minute or so that the cold sore does not form. Has anyone else experienced this?

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Guest

I have found that if you pinch the area right after you get the tingle for a minute or so that the cold sore does not form. Has anyone else experienced this?

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Guest

Campophinquie works wonders amd its only 3 bucks. Just like everything else start to apply at tingle

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Guest

l put aftershave on cold sore with cotton bud not fingers it works

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Claire

Andrea I'm sorry some people are rude and unhelpful to the situation. Thanks for your article. Not much works for me as I only have a hr or two before it starts coming up and generally by the time I get my hands on the anti viral drugs the horse has bolted. My glad under my neck swells too and the left side of my whole bottom lip swells too. The swelling is the worst part. Not too big a blister. If I don't get it in time the best treatment for me is Advil or other form of ibuprofen, and most definitely the compeed patches. The clear round compeed patches are way better than Zovirax cream as the are stick and stick to the area, providing sustained medication and protection from drying out or further bacteria. They also provide releif by numbing the area a bit and last a few hours even with eating. They have given me more confidence to get up and go to work and attend meetings too. The reduce healing time a lot as they keep it covered and medicated at all times. Great for overnight too. Thank you compeed!

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Bri

Great article! I get cold sores and when I do I only get them on by bottom lip, directly on the lip and they are horrendous. I actually have one forming now and I'm regretting the upcoming week. I've tried just about every trick in the book ointments, medicine, ice, witch hazel, lysine....the list goes on. At this point I've realize sometimes doing to much can make it worse. I just ice it, keep lips moist with Chapstick, immediately get abreva. I know it's expensive but I find it's way better than carmex and helps the blister from getting to it's worse. Valtrex works great but again pretty expensive, not to mention you have to go to the doctor and get a perception.(worth it tho if you have the time and $)Get lots of rest and work on getting your immune system up.

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Joe Hat`

I stopped getting cold sores, when I started washing my lips after every meal.

I suspect the acid in foods like fruit might damage the lining of the lips and that causes the cold sore.

I also avoid getting sun burnt.

I tried Zorvirax early on and had no luck with it.

Guest's picture
Mattispantone81

This virus as with most thrive in highly acidic environments. The human bodies pH fluctuates over time in response to what you're consuming, environmental factors and emotional factors. When your body is in a raised pH state your immune system finds it far more difficult to create antibodies which will fight off viruses and bacteria which it is normally able to keep a handle on.

Treatments such as lysine, zovirax and the like are treating the symptom and not the cause. Your body is essentially a walking, breathing, loving feeling pharmacy capable of producing a cornucopia of drugs on the fly. What we need to do to help it along is ensure that the state in which it produces those drugs is is efficient and effective. So how do we do that?

First and foremost, keep your overall body pH levels in a neutral state. This is when your bodies factory runs at peak efficiency. Too alkaline or too acidic are both just as noxious as the other. Consuming foods and choosing a lifestyle which assists with pH neutrality is the challenge. Putting drugs into your body is only compensating for your body being in a poor state to produce it's own fighting forces. I'll suggest a few things which can help with this process.

Step 1. Sugar
However much sugar you are consuming immediately halve it. No more coke, no more chocolate, one sugar in your coffee and tea (if you must). Take a moment to check what's in your foods. Of course you still need sugars, but your body can get that from a lot of places. Adding to it will only worse the problem. Sugar when it's processed by your body elevates your acidity levels and those little viruses and bacterium have a field day.

Step 2. Activated charcoal
No I am not suggesting you burn your food or literally start ingesting lumps of coal. Activated charcoal tablets is excellent for entering your stomach and adsorbing harmful things. One downside is that it can also adsorb good things so try not to take it in close proximity to prescription medicines. There are many other things you can consume to actively balance your pH levels but I will leave you to google those on your own.

Step 3. Stress releif
GGive yourself a break. Mentally and physically. You body reacts to stress the same way it has for tens of thousands of years. It increases acidity levels in that list. So take a moment to relax, unwind and purge the negative forces in your life. You can achieve this by exercising, meditating, listening to music you enjoy, getting quality sleep in a routine, and taking a moment to enjoy life. Do things which lend themselves to relaxation and calm.

That's all I've got. Topical medications are great for treating the symptoms but they're not preventative. Help your body help you. After all you are your body and your body is you. Stop treating it like it's some separate alien thing you're fighting a daily battle with.