Unsightly and painful, cold sores are caused by a highly contagious virus called herpes simplex 1 (HS1). HS1 is spread via skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and sexual contact, and is similar to, but not the same as, the virus that causes genital herpes.
People are often exposed to HS1 in childhood, when small blisters form in the mouth causing fever and discomfort. Caregivers often confuse the outbreak with an episode of teething. After the initial exposure, HS1 hides in the nervous system near the mouth, waiting to be awakened by dental treatments, fever, food sensitivities, sunlight on the lips, or stress.
Cold sores start with a tingling or itchy sensation in the location where the virus will appear, which can be on the outer lips or on the palate inside the mouth. The spot then erupts with a painful open sore that scabs over and heals in about ten days. Lesions can also appear inside the mouth and quickly join together to form a very painful sore.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information suggests that high doses of vitamin C taken at the initial stage may help to speed up the healing process.
The herpes virus depends on the amino acid arginine for replication, so if you are susceptible, avoid food sources of arginine including dairy products, chocolate, coconut, meat, soybeans, white flour, walnuts, and wheat germ.
The essential amino acid lysine actually displaces arginine and has been proven to prevent and speed up recovery following a herpes outbreak. Look for lysine in eggs, fish, lima beans, and potatoes. During an outbreak, consider supplementing with 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams of lysine daily; 500 to1,000 mg daily will help to prevent a recurrence. In addition, calendula ointment applied to the sore might offer some comfort.
If you suffer from frequent cold sores, you should also make sure your skin has all the ammunition it needs to encourage healing. Along with your daily multivitamin, supplement with essential fatty acids to aid repair of skin cells and probiotics to address the pathogens in your body. Consider boosting your vitamin A intake and use zinc lozenges (up to 50 mg daily) to heal the lining of your mouth.
Remember, cold sores are contagious, so keep your mouth to yourself during an outbreak!