Don't worry Posh… lemon tea and light therapy can get rid of that cold sore
21:19 GMT, 21 July 2012
Going viral: Victoria Beckham in 2010 hiding her cold sore
The cold sore and the tingle that precedes it are a death knell to thousands of romantic evenings each year, causing days of discomfort and embarrassment as a result of a disfiguring, contagious blister usually found on the mouth.
One in five of us suffers, including Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss and actress Katie Holmes. Here’s our guide to why, and what to do about them…
Cold sores are caused by a virus strain called Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 or HPV-1.
‘In most cases the virus is passed on during childhood by kissing,’ says Professor Tony Nash, director of the Centre for Infectious Diseases in Edinburgh.
‘The child might not develop blisters until years later.’
According to the Herpes Viruses Association, three-quarters of us don’t know that we carry the virus.
A CARRIER FOR LIFE
Once a person is infected, they remain carriers for life – the virus travels down the nerve at the site of infection, where it remains dormant between attacks.
This means that a cold sore should occur in roughly the same place each time.
STRESS IS A FACTOR
It is not fully understood how or why the virus is reawakened but it is thought that a weakened immune system, or anything that triggers inflammatory mechanisms, play a role.
‘Stress, injury and even sunlight can cause a cold sore to re-emerge,’ explains Dr Mayaud. ‘Many women find their monthly cycle can trigger a blister too.’
TAKE ACTION EARLY
It is vital you treat the infection quickly. ‘Even though a cold sore usually disappears after a week to ten days, getting rid of it should be a priority,’ says Prof Nash.
‘You put those surrounding you at risk.’
Antiviral drugs acyclovir and penciclovir are found in almost all over-the-counter remedies. Prof Nash says creams should be rubbed in ‘vigorously and frequently.’
For creams to work properly, they need to be applied five times a day for four to five days at the first sign of tingling.
Some people can become resistant to medication over time.
‘They will be prescribed a stronger dose of acyclovir or a drug from the same family to fight the infection,’ explains Prof Nash.
SHINE A LIGHT
Another option is infra-red light therapy – just three minutes, twice a day for three days, has been proven to eliminate a cold sore.
‘It is thought the wavelength improves the cells’ ability to withstand the virus and prevents damage to the DNA of affected cells, allowing it to heal quicker,’ says Dr Dougal Gordon, inventor of the first infra-red, NHS-approved cold sore gadget Virulite.
KEEP IT CLEAN
When you have a cold sore, it is vital to practise good hygiene. ‘It is unlikely you will spread a cold sore to other parts of your body,’ says Dr Mayaud. ‘But if it is visible, it is very contagious to others.’
Do not share cutlery or make-up and wash your hands each time they come in contact with the sore. Avoid those with weak immune systems such as babies, the elderly and those undergoing chemotherapy.
CHANGE YOUR DIET
Research shows certain foods may affect the likelihood of developing a cold sore. ‘Avoiding foods rich in the amino acid arginine – seafood, nuts and chocolate – can help delay an attack,’ says nutritional therapist Ian Marber.
‘Another amino acid called lysine – in avocado, beetroot, fish, dairy and chicken – keeps them at bay.’
Some natural herbal extracts have been shown to help prevent outbreaks. ‘Certain foods act as potent anti-virals, particularly in preventing the proliferation of herpes,’ says natural medicine expert Philip Weeks.
‘Drinking lemon balm tea and eating blackberries have both been clinically proven to have a positive effect in clearing up infection.’
Research has also shown that applying diluted neem and peppermint oil directly to the sore can speed up healing.