Cold sores affect a lot of people and cause a lot of embarrassment. I became curious about cold sores after a health class in college. What I am going to do in this article is let people know how to have less frequent and more comfortable outbreaks—no matter your budget. Disclaimer—I am not a doctor. Please consult your health care professional for any concerns. Please read the whole article, not just the section that pertains to your financial situation because there is good information for everyone here. Get out your notepad and write down what you need to buy or talk to your doctor about.
- Suggestions for People Who Can Afford to See a Doctor—I like natural medicine and home remedies. However, in my opinion, prescription medicines tend to have more data on their effectiveness when compared to supplements or home remedies. Some people don’t like to take medicines. I am not one of those people. I feel that if medicines are out there for your particular ailment, then why suffer needlessly? The point is that people can get on daily suppressive therapy to prevent cold sores. I feel that this is the way to go. Other people only take the medicine when they feel a “tingle” or another sign that a cold sore is coming. But that is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has already fled. What if you feel the tingle and you are at work or school or in the car? If you take a pill everyday, you (theoretically) suppress all of that. There are three main prescription antivirals—Valtrex, Acyclovir and Famvir. Valtrex and Acyclovir are the best for daily suppressive therapy and are both available in generic. A 800 mg dose of Acyclovir daily should be sufficient. For Valtrex, 500 mg daily should do the trick for you if you get less than nine outbreaks a year. If you get more than nine outbreaks, 1000 mg a day is best. If you still get a “break through” outbreak, then you might have to up the dosage of the pills or take a different medicine altogether. For example, if you take Acyclovir daily and you get a “break through” cold sore, then take Valtrex (two grams twice daily for one day taken 12 hours apart) to knock it out. If you take Valtrex daily and get a “break through” cold sore, then take Famvir (1500 mg as a single dose) to knock it out. The medicines are similar but different enough that a “switch” might prevent the body from becoming so used to the drug that it doesn’t work anymore. I would also get an antiviral cream to apply to the area such as Acyclovir ointment or Denavir ointment.
- Plan for People Who Can Spend Freely at the Drug Store—This is for people who have enough money to go into a drugstore and buy what they desire, but for whatever reason, they can’t or won’t go to the doctor at the moment. Here’s what I recommend for you—lysine tablets. They should be in the aisle with the vitamins and supplements. Get the 1000 mg version if you can. Take 5000 mg on the first day you notice the outbreak and until it is over. Take 1000 mg daily to suppress the virus. It is like the poor man’s Valtrex. Take the supplement on an empty stomach for maximum absorption. Also, get some Compeed Cold Sore Patches. They are about $13 on Amazon for 15 patches but they are well worth it. They cover the sore to prevent transmitting it to other people or other parts of your body. They make the sore less visible (not invisible). Most importantly, they also treat the sore with medicine to make it heal faster. I have heard of people cutting the patch in half to cover smaller outbreaks. If you live in Australia or the UK, it is available in stores. But, if you live in the U.S., you might have to order online from a place such as Amazon.
- Plan for Those in the Lower-Middle Income Bracket—If you are in this category, you can go to the drugstore, but money is a bit of an issue. Here’s what I recommend—1000 mg lysine tablets. Take 5000 mg on the first day you notice the outbreak and until it is over. Then, take 1000 mg a day to suppress the virus. This supplement costs about $6.99 depending upon the store, the brand and whether you buy it online or in person. As always, purchasing it in bulk online is always a convenient option so that you never run out. I have heard it said that the tablets work better than the capsules with this supplement. Also, purchase some Campho-Phenique. There is a special version just for cold sores, but the regular version is good too if you cannot get your hands on that. It dries up blemishes and sores like these and it is about $4 for a tube. A lot of people swear by Abreva, but, after reading many online reviews, just as many people say that it did nothing for them. It is also quite expensive.
- Plan for the Broke—The suggestions in this section are super cheap and helpful. Go to the Dollar Tree (or Family Dollar if you’re feeling rich!) and get some vitamin C since it is less expensive than lysine. Cold sores appear when your immunity is down due to stress (physical or emotional) or illness. Vitamin C helps the immune system. Take 2000 mg of vitamin C as soon as you notice the tingling sensation of an impending cold sore. After four to six hours, take 2000 milligrams again. Lower the dose to 1000 milligram twice a day after the fourth day and revert to your normal daily dosage after seven days. A good normal daily dosage is 500 mg. Please do not take a high dosage of vitamin C long-term without consulting your health care professional. Also, get the Dollar Tree multivitamin and take that on a daily basis. If you are in good health, you are less likely to get sick and have issues with cold sores in the first place. Cold sores strike when you are not at your peak physically and/or mentally. The vitamin C is mandatory and the multivitamin is optional. But, if you can afford it, I recommend both. The next thing you need is a big bottle of hydrogen peroxide. If they don’t have this, get a big bottle of rubbing alcohol. Apply this liquid to your cold sore using a cotton swab or cotton ball (not your fingers as you don’t want to contaminate the bottle). Just lightly pour the liquid on the swab to saturate it. As cheap as peroxide is, there’s no need to be stingy. Don’t dip the swab in the liquid because you don’t want to contaminate the liquid. Swab the affected area three to four time per day when you feel you are getting a cold sore and continue until the sores are gone. If you buy everything in this section, it will cost you a whopping $4.00! If you don’t need the cotton balls or cotton swabs because you already have some, then shave another dollar off of that price. If you choose to not get the multivitamin, then shave another dollar off of that price. Therefore, the cheapest version of this plan will cost you $2.00. You can’t beat that price with a stick!
Here are a few last minute thoughts:
- Cold sores are very contagious especially when they are leaking fluid. If you care anything about the people you live with or come into contact with, please follow some guidelines so as not to infect them. You also don’t want to accidentally spread the virus to other areas of your face or body.
- Don’t touch your sore. If you must touch it for whatever reason, then wash your hands thoroughly afterward (preferably using liquid soap to avoid contaminating a bar of soap). If you must use bar soap, make that your personal bar of soap. Also, do not share towels with others during an outbreak.
- Don’t kiss anyone or give oral sex when you have an outbreak. Any skin to lesion contact can spread the virus.
- If you wear contact lenses, be especially careful of not spreading the virus to your eyes.
- If you want to make the sore less visible, you can cover it up with a Compeed patch or a round, small clear or flesh-toned bandage. Or, you can use a liquid bandage on the sore. Paint it on the sore and let it dry. Once it is dry, you can apply concealer over it. Make sure that container of liquid bandage is used only for cold sore outbreaks and keep another container around if you need it for other stuff. It is not ideal to put make up over a cold sore. But, if you are determined to do so, use disposable applicators and don’t “double dip” to avoid spreading it to other areas of your face.
- If you sleep in a bed with anyone else, have your own pillow and pillow case and make sure they don’t use yours. If that blister leaks at night, contaminated fluid will be in the pillow case and if your partner puts his face on that, then he could be at risk for getting this incurable virus on his face. Viruses affect everyone differently. You might just get a blister a couple times a year. He might get it in his eye because of where the fluid is on the pillow case. Anyone with it in the eye can go blind. Or he might just get a bad case with swollen glands, dizziness, and a high fever and have to deal with that periodically because that is how his body deals with the virus. Just because it is not a big deal to one person doesn’t mean that it cannot become a big deal in someone else’s body. Be courteous to your lover and spare him or her this particular gift.
- Change the pillow case and your toothbrush after an outbreak.
I know some of the measures I have discussed may seem extreme. It is not my desire to make anyone feel bad. But, this is an incurable virus that no one truly wants to have to deal with. Complications are rare, but they include encephalitis and blindness. If you already have it on your lips, you can spread it to your eyes and genitals without careful hand washing with soap and warm water. So, please follow this information to avoid spreading the virus and have fewer and shorter outbreaks.
P.S. If you are curious about your herpes status, there is a blood test that you can get. There are two types of herpes simplex viruses (type 1 and type 2). Type 1 typically causes cold sores and type 2 typically causes genital herpes. However, the lines on this are becoming blurred due to increasing rates of oral sex. So, people can get type 2 on the lips and type 1 down below. That is why it is important to never let someone go down on you when that person has a cold sore. If you have a cold sore (from the first tingle until the time that the sore is completely gone-scab and all) don’t go down on anyone. I have heard horror story after horror story of people contracting genital herpes from a partner with cold sores who went down on them. Sometimes, the person did not realize that cold sores on the mouth are not genetically any different than a genital herpes infection below…it really is the same virus. Sometimes, the person was in the prodromal period and did not realize that they were getting a cold sore…and then they passed it on. Sometimes the person who passed it on did not have an active cold sore, but the person was asymptomatically shedding the virus. Once you have cold sores, you have that virus for life and can asymptomatically shed periodically. It is important to get all of the facts. If you get outbreaks, then you know you have genital herpes or cold sores. But, there are asymptomatic carriers as well who don’t break out. If you want to know your HSV 1 and HSV 2 status, then get tested. Typically, doctors won’t test for herpes unless they swab an active breakout. They usually don’t have or do the blood testing. But, there is a company offering it called Accesa Labs (https://www.accesalabs.com/Herpes-Test). You get 10% off if you use the coupon code “KRYSTALBROWN”. Please consider getting tested.