Ugh. Cold sores are positively awful. Not only do they hurt, but they can make you feel like holing up in a dark room because you don’t want anyone else to see that wonderful-looking growth on your lip. Am I right?

Once you have the virus, you will have it for life, and cold sores — which are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus — may pop up from time to time, but most likely within the first two years of getting the virus. Type 1 herpes (oral herpes) is a virus that spreads through contact and usually passes from person to person through blister fluid or another fluid infected from the blister fluid, such as saliva. The most likely means of transmision is kissing, but if you share a drink with someone who has a cold sore, it’s possible that you could get the virus. Cold sores do heal on their own, and annoying as they may be, there are steps you can take to prevent them and things you can do to help them go away faster.

Woman covering her mouth

What do you do once you’re the lucky recipient of the herpes simplex virus? Know your triggers. For some, it’s stress. For others, it’s lack of sleep. Know what brings your cold sores on, and do your best to avoid those things. Also, make sure to keep adequate sun protection (lip balm and sunscreen) on and around your lips  — because too much sun can cause a cold sore outbreak.

What about once you have a cold sore? There are some natural remedies you can try:

Milk. If you feel one lurking beneath the surface about to make its grand entrance, try soaking a cotton ball in milk and applying the cotton ball to the affected area. Some swear by this natural remedy to stop the cold sore dead in its tracks.

Licorice. Real licorice, that is. The stuff you buy in the candy aisle of the grocery store ain’t gonna do much (though you might will it to). Try making a licorice tea and applying it topically or drinking it while you have a cold sore.

Ice or cold compress. You might try putting an ice pack on the cold sore as well. Some say this can speed up the healing process and it definitely feels good since ice works as a numbing agent.

Petroleum jelly. Don’t try to cover the cold sore with makeup, as this can aggravate the cold sore and make it worse. (Hearkening back to your awkward high school days, you might remember that covering pimples in makeup has much the same result.) If you insist on putting something on it, try some Vaseline, as this will create a barrier and moisterize the area.

Lemon balm ointment. You can buy this ointment at most drugstores. Lemon balm has been used as a calming herb for centuries alternative medicine studies have shown that it can actually reduce the redness and swelling of cold sores in as little as 2 days.

Either way, they can be treated with any of the remedies above. Of course, you can also try over-the-counter topical ointments like Abreva. Or if they’re popping up really often, ask your doctor about a prescription cream or antiviral therapy. The creams won’t necessarily make the cold sore go away faster, but they can relieve any pain or itching caused by the sore.

Good luck to you, and I hope by the time you’re reading this, that cold sore is gone!

More natural remedies from MNN:

Photo credit: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
5 natural cold sore remedies
Once you have the virus, cold sores can appear with little warning. Here's what you can do to treat and prevent these unsightly blemishes.