Health Condition

Cold Sores

About This Condition

Cold sores are painful fluid-filled blisters that form on the borders of the lips caused by a herpes virus, most often the herpes simplex 1 virus.

Cold sores should not be confused with canker sores, which are small ulcerations in the mouth. The blisters, which are contagious, later break, ooze, and crust over before healing. Recurrences are common and can be triggered by stress, sun exposure, illness, and menstruation. Genital herpes infection (usually caused by herpes simplex 2) is a related condition and potentially may be treated in much the same way as herpes simplex 1.


Cold sores may appear with colds, fevers, exposure to excessive sunlight, or menstrual periods, as well as during periods of stress or illness. The sores usually disappear within two weeks. Initially, there may be tingling or prickling at the site of the cold sores even before they are visible (called the prodrome); afterward, the blisters often weep a clear fluid and form a scab. If the infection is transmitted to the eyes, it may lead to blindness.


1. Wölbling RH, Leonhardt K. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract of Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1994;1:25-31.

2. Koytchev R, Alken RG, Dundarov S. Balm mint extract (Lo-701) for topical treatment of recurring herpes labialis. Phytomedicine 1999;6:225-30.

3. Flodin NW. The metabolic roles, pharmacology, and toxicology of lysine. J Am Coll Nutr 1997;16:7-21 [review].

4. Griffith RS, Norins AL, Kagan C. A multicentered study of lysine therapy in herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica 1978;156:257-67.

5. Griffith RS, Walsh DE, Myrmel KH, et al. Success of L-lysine therapy in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Dermatologica 1987;175:183-90.

6. Milman N, Scheibel J, Jessen O. Lysine prophylaxis in recurrent herpes simplex labialis: a double blind, controlled crossover study. Acta Derm Venereol 1980;60:85-7.

7. DiGiovanna JJ, Blank H. Failure of lysine in frequently recurrent herpes simplex infection. Treatment and prophylaxis. Arch Dermatol 1984;120:48-51.

8. Kagan C. Lysine therapy for herpes simplex. Lancet 1974;i:137 [letter].

9. Milman N, Scheibel J, Jessen O. Failure of lysine treatment in recurrent herpes simplex labialis. Lancet 1978;ii:942 [letter].

10. Holden M, Molloy E. Further experiments on the inactivation of herpes virus by vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid). J Immunol 1937;33:251-7.

11. Terezhalmy GT, Bottomley WK, Pelleu GB. The use of water-soluble bioflavonoid-ascorbic acid complex in the treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Oral Surg 1978;45:56-62.

12. Nead DE. Effective vitamin E treatment for ulcerative herpetic lesions. Dent Survey 1976;52(7):50-1.

13. Fink M, Fink J. Treatment of herpes simplex by alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Br Dent J 1980;148:246 [letter].

14. Erdelmeier CA, Cinatl J Jr, Rabenau H, et al. Antiviral and antiphlogistic activities of Hamamelis virginiana bark. Planta Med 1996;62:241-5.

15. Baumgärtner M, Köhler S, Moll I, et al. Localized treatment of herpes labialis using hamamelis special extract: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Z Allerg Med 1998;74:158-61.

16. Eby GA, Halcomb WW. Use of topical zinc to prevent recurrent herpes simplex infection: review of literature and suggested protocols. Med Hypotheses 1985;17:157-65.

17. Brody I. Topical treatment of recurrent herpes simplex and post-herpetic erythema multiforme with low concentrations of zinc sulphate solution. Br J Dermatol 1981;104:191-4.

18. Apisariyakulm A, Buddhasukh D, Apisariyakul S, Ternai B. Zinc monoglycerolate is effective against oral herpetic sores. Med J Aust 1990;152:54.

19. Skinner GRB, Hartley CE, Millar D, Bishop E. Possible treatment for cold sores. Br Med J 1979;2:704.

20. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs.Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1999.

21. Partridge M, Poswillo D. Topical carbenoxolone sodium in the management of herpes simplex infection. Br J Oral Maxillfac Surg 1984;22:138-45.

22. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs.Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1999.

23. Vynograd N, Vynograd I, Sosnowski Z. A comparative multi-centre study of the efficacy of propolis, acyclovir and placebo in the treatment of genital herpes (HSV). Phytomedicine 2000;7:1-6.

24. Markowitz JS, Donovan JL, DeVane CL, et al. Effect of St John's wort on drug metabolism by induction of cytochrome P450 3A4 enzyme. JAMA 2003;290:1500-4.

25. Tankersley RW Jr. Amino acid requirements of herpes simplex virus in human cells. J Bacteriol 1964;87:609-13.

26. Flodin NW. The metabolic roles, pharmacology, and toxicology of lysine. J Am Coll Nutr 1997;16:7-21 [review].

27. Algert SJ, Stubblefield NE, Grasse BJ, et al. Assessment of dietary intake of lysine and arginine in patients with herpes simplex. J Am Diet Assoc 1987:87:1560-1.

Copyright © 2020 TraceGains, Inc. All rights reserved.

Learn more about TraceGains, the company.

The information presented by TraceGains is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.

Drugs used to treat COLD SORES. Select drug name to view medication information and pricing