Q: I tend to get cold sores, which are painful, horrible to look at and make me feel low. Is there anything I can do to help prevent/treat them?
A: Cold sores are due to a virus called herpes simplex. Many people carry it and for some it results in cold sores. You won’t know you have it until/if you get one of these small fluid-filled blisters on your face, which then bursts and crusts over into an unsightly scab.
Unfortunately, there is no way of banishing the virus from your system. Once you have it, it stays in your skin for keeps but may never cause any symptoms.
Typically a cold sore will heal within ten days but you can help the process. Pharmacist Shabir Daya recommends taking a supplement of the amino acid l-lysine, which has been shown to help speed recovery and prevent recurrence. Lysine has anti-viral properties and also blocks the uptake of arginine, an amino acid that promotes viral growth.
Try Lamberts L-Lysine, £10.45 for 120 tablets, each 500mg. Take one tablet twice a day on an empty stomach.
In terms of prevention, l-lysine works best combined with vitamin C, zinc and immune enhancing herbs. Shabir suggests Viridian Horseradish & Garlic Complex, £11.30 for 30 capsules, which contains buffered vitamin C and zinc. Or VH Daily Immunity, £26 for 60 capsules (currently pre-order).
You can also add in lysine-rich foods, such as chicken, beef, lamb, pork, fish/shellfish, eggs, yogurt, cheese and milk, avocadoes, tomatoes, beetroot, leeks, potatoes, and fruit such as berries.
Low levels of l-lysine may be a factor in loss of calcium from bones so upping your lysine intake may help people at risk of osteoporosis, including women going through the menopause and the elderly. People diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease have a greater risk of osteoporosis so may also benefit from taking a supplement, as above.
Applying lysine to the cold sore can soothe the pain and ensure the virus doesn’t spread. Life-Flo Lysine Lip Therape with Monolaurin balm helps moisturise and hydrate the sore, and prevent lips from drying and cracking. Monolaurin is a coconut derivative and is thought to disrupt the fatty envelope round the virus, without which it cannot survive.
You can use a concealer if you wish but not until the blister has burst and you have a scab. Disguise the redness first with a green toned concealer, as a primer, and then pat on a small amount of creamy concealer. Use your fingers rather than a brush or sponge so that you don’t spread the virus.
One important thing to add: cold sores are highly contagious. Do NOT kiss babies if you have a cold sore. This can lead to neonatal herpes, which is very dangerous indeed.
Here are other Do’s and Don’t’s based on information from the NHS:
- eat cool, soft foods
- wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cream
- avoid anything that triggers your cold sores such as sun exposure (see below), cold wind, a cold, changing hormones, and stress
- be aware of any food triggers that may affect you – wheat is a common problem, also nuts, peanuts, oats, dark chocolate and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame
- use sunblock lip balm (SPF 15 or above) if sunshine is the trigger
- take an over the counter painkiller if needed
- drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
- see your GP if the cold sore hasn’t started to heal within ten days
- kiss anyone while you have a cold sore
- share anything that comes into contact with a cold sore (such as cold sore creams, cutlery or lipstick)
- touch your cold sore (apart from applying cream)
- rub cream into the cold sore – dab it on instead
- don’t have oral sex as the virus can cause genital herpes.