Painful and often front and center, a cold sore outbreak can really ruin your week. And unfortunately, there’s no cure for them; there are only methods to dull the pain and speed up the healing process.
It may sound crazy and maybe you’d never guess it, but cannabidiol (CBD), a natural compound found in hemp, shows promise in easing cold sores and limiting cold sore outbreaks.
What Is a Cold Sore?
Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) are made up of clusters of blisters filled with clear fluid. These patches happen in and around the mouth, especially in areas with a lot of mucus.
When the blisters pop, the liquid oozes and dries into a layer of crust. While not particularly dangerous, they’re highly contagious, itchy and sensitive. Not to mention, because they occur on the face, it can make sufferers self-conscious.
How Do You Get a Cold Sore?
A viral infection called herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) causes cold sores. It’s very closely related to the sexually transmitted disease herpes simplex virus (HSV-2), commonly just known as herpes.
The HSV-1 virus is spread from person to person through physical contact like kissing or touching. Around 90% of American adults test positive for the virus, even if they’ve never had a cold sore. Sometimes people with the virus never have a cold sore outbreak.
But when a cold sore outbreak does occur, chances are it will happen again. That’s because the virus lies dormant in nerve cells in the skin, ready to agitate healthy cells again.
These outbreaks tend to happen once someone with the virus experiences heightened stress or whenever the immune system is suppressed such as when you’re sick or during a woman’s menstrual cycle. When this happens, the virus activates and begins to attack healthy cells nearby.
In response, the body sends in white blood cells that act as the defensive line for your blood and body. When a part of your body (in the case of cold sores, in and around and your mouth) is experiencing a viral attack, white blood cells rush in to fix the problem.
Healing is the eventual result. But until then, the cellular-level warfare results in pain, inflammation and oozing blisters that typically last four to seven days, and sometimes longer.
Non-CBD Treatments for Cold Sores
As mentioned, there’s no cure for the HSV-1 virus. But there are some traditional ways to help ease the pain and inflammation during a cold sore outbreak.
- Cold sores tend to heal after four to seven days. The simplest way to deal with a minor one is to ice it (without letting the ice make contact with the skin) and give it some time. Applying ice at the very first tingle of a cold sore can significantly decrease the length of its stay.
- Viral medications can help the breakout clear faster and can sometimes prevent future outbreaks.
- Over-the-counter creams like Zovirax, which are available at pharmacies, reduce the pain and keep the skin moisturized to avoid cracks and splitting.
- Isopropyl alcohol applied to the cold sore with a cotton swab can help dry out the blisters and keep the area clean to avoid infection or irritation.
How CBD Is Well-Suited to Fighting Cold Sores
CBD, a natural cannabinoid found in the hemp plant, can treat cold sores once they develop and limit future occurrences. CBD can’t cure the virus, but it can make it easier to manage.
You may never have considered CBD as an option for treating something like a cold sore, but it contains properties that address the main symptoms of a cold sore outbreak: pain and inflammation.
In a study from 2009, researchers concluded CBD is effective at spurring healthy cell growth and limiting the pain and inflammation often present during the healing process.
On a longer-term scale, CBD can also help prevent future HSV-1 outbreaks. The key to CBD’s success is its immune-boosting capabilities, which lead to antiviral effects. A properly functioning immune system can fight off active HSV-1 cells, and therefore future cold sore outbreaks, better than an embattled immune system can.
Besides a compromised immune system, there’s one other common cold sore trigger that CBD can help reduce: stress. For many people suffering from reoccurring cold sores, stress can be a major instigator. Luckily, CBD shows “therapeutic efficacy” for treating anxiety and stress in animal models, according to the National Institute of Health.
How to Treat Cold Sores With CBD
If you’re currently experiencing a cold sore outbreak, try applying CBD oil directly to the skin using a clean cotton swab. This highly concentrated form of CBD will be even more effective if it’s in direct contact with the affected area.
You can also use a CBD lip balm like this one from Elixinol to help keep the area moisturized as it heals.
How CBD Can Help Prevent Cold Sores
To keep your immune system strong and stress at a manageable level, adding CBD to your daily routine is your best bet. There are many ways to do this, including:
- Placing a couple drops of CBD tincture under the tongue every morning or night
- Taking a CBD capsule like you would any other daily vitamin or supplement
- Enjoying a daily CBD-infused edible as a snack
Photo credit: Luka Davitadze
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