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Cold sores are grade-A nuisances that always seem to pop up at the worst of times. It starts as just a few little white irritations and then balloons into a painful, unattractive sore.

Cold sores are different from canker sores, though people often confuse the two. Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus type 1, usually contracted in childhood through saliva. The type 1 virus hides in nerve cells until it is activated by stress, a cold or overexposure to the sun. That’s when it breaks out in sores on the external lip and area around the mouth. It’s the herpes virus simplex 2 that spreads through sexual contact and affects the genitals, not the simplex 1.

You can’t cure cold sores, but here are ten home remedies that can reduce their discomfort and speed their departure:

  1. Cover it up:

Layering petroleum jelly will shield the cold sore from a secondary infection, and this will hasten the healing process. A local anesthetic can also numb the pain it causes. However, avoid the make-up: these often make the problem worse.

  1. Toss out your toothbrush:

Get a new toothbrush after the blister appears and then another one after it goes away. The virus can hide away inside the toothbrush bristles.

  1. Protect your lips from sunburns:

There are sunscreens made especially for the lips, as well lipsticks and balms that contain sunscreen. These will help prevent cold sores caused by sunburns.

  1. No touching (or kissing):

Pinching and picking cold sores only makes them worse, since these actions can aggravate bacterial infections. Cold sores are infectious, so do not kiss anyone or share a cup or towel. Wash your hands a lot, and do not touch your eyes or genitals after touching the sore.

  1. Try painkillers:

Aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen can all lessen the discomfort of cold sores.

  1. Stay away from triggers:

Fight stress, which is a trigger for cold sores, with exercise, meditation or yoga. Acidic and salty foods can also worsen the problem.

  1. Eat some licorice:

Licorice has glycyrrhizic acid, which studies have shown fights the cold sore virus. Chew on a licorice whip or sprinkle some licorice powder on the sore. Do not go overboard though: overuse of licorice for an extended period of time can cause serious side effects.

  1. Ice it:

Putting an ice pack on a cold sore can reduce the time until it goes away and will provide some temporary relief too.

  1. Milk:

Dabbing a milk-soaked cotton ball on a cold sore can lessen the pain. Even better, if you feel one coming, dabbing it with milk can speed up the healing right away.

10. Zinc Lozenges:

Sucking on zinc lozenges can kick-start the immune system during periods of stress and thus get rid of pesky sores faster.