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How To Freeze a Cold Sore (Without Hurting Yourself)

A blonde woman in a white bathroom tries freezing a cold sore by holding a blue cold pack against her face.

There's no doubt about it: Cold sores are painful! And when you're in pain, you'd do almost anything to make that pain go away.

But what about freezing a cold sore? Can that help heal a cold sore, or at least numb the pain a bit?

Freezing a Cold Sore: Is Cold Good for Cold Sores?

No one can deny the numbing effect of cold on pain. Cold compresses have been a top home remedy that many people turn to for pain relief, for good reason. Ice can also help reduce the swelling from cold sores and other maladies.

But, counterintuitively, ice can also cause burns.

Ice burn results from prolonged skin contact with a very cold item. This causes the water in your skin's cells to freeze, creating damaging, sharp ice crystals within the cells. It also decreases blood flow to the damaged area.

Because the skin on and around your cold sore is already traumatized, it's important to exercise caution when using a freezing object, like ice, to help with pain or swelling. You can protect yourself from ice burn by placing a barrier around the freezing object before applying it. For example, simply wrapping ice in a clean towel before applying it to your cold sore protects your skin while still allowing the cold to do its work.

Other Methods for Freezing Cold Sores

Ice or a cold pack straight from the freezer aren't the only methods people use for freezing cold sores. Some people have experimented with liquid nitrogen and dry ice.

Liquid Nitrogen for Cold Sores?

Cryotherapy, also called cold therapy, with liquid nitrogen has been successfully used for freezing cold sores. One study showed that recovery from cold sores occurred within 24-48 hours when patients received cryotherapy within three days of cold sore blister formation.

While freezing a cold sore with liquid nitrogen offers some promise, this therapy can be dangerous without medical supervision and should not be attempted at home. If you're curious about using liquid nitrogen to freeze a cold sore, talk to your doctor or dentist to see if this could be a treatment option for you.

Dry Ice for Cold Sores?

Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide and is available for purchase by the pound at most grocery stores. Dry ice is used for overnight shipping of cold foods and in fog machines at theaters and concerts.

It makes sense that people wonder whether dry ice would be good for freezing a cold sore. However, dry ice is far too cold to use on your skin and will injure you.

Even just holding dry ice in your hand can cause ice burn, so applying it to skin already suffering from a cold sore is certainly not advisable.

Alternatives To Freezing a Cold Sore

Ice, of course, has its limitations in treating cold sores. If you find freezing your cold sore with regular ice (not dry ice!) helpful, it's a safe method to use with the proper precautions. However, you may want to consider some additional treatments.

Freezing a cold sore

Over-the-Counter Treatments

Your local pharmacy has many cold sore treatment options available for purchase.

Abreva is a popular treatment you can apply directly to your cold sore at the first sign of burning or tingling, and you can continue to apply Abreva up to five times daily. Abreva blocks the herpes virus from further invading healthy skin cells.

Orajel, perhaps most well known for their numbing products for oral pain, offers a specific product for cold sore treatment. Orajel Touch-Free Cold Sore treats the pain, dryness, and itching caused by cold sore outbreaks.

Other over-the-counter remedies are available for cold sores as well. Check your pharmacy or speak with your pharmacist for more information on these products.

Valacyclovir

Valacyclovir is a prescription medication for treating a herpes infection. So while you'll have to visit your doctor to get your hands on this treatment, it's highly effective at reducing healing time and preventing future cold sore outbreaks. Valacyclovir can also reduce the likelihood of transmitting the cold sore virus to those around you.

Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Therapy using low-level laser light has been clinically proven to reduce cold sore healing time. The Luminance RED Lip Sore Treatment Device is an example of a type of product that uses medically optimized red light to encourage cold sore healing.

Foods

The foods you eat have a significant effect on your cold sore and its healing process. The cold sore virus, HSV-1, relies on the amino acid arginine to replicate itself. Arginine is found in certain meats, seeds, nuts, and wheat.

It's helpful to steer clear of foods with high levels of arginine to avoid triggering cold sore outbreaks or aggravating existing sores.

Lysine Supplementation

Lysine, on the other hand, has been shown to interfere with arginine absorption. With enough lysine supplementation, arginine becomes unavailable to HSV-1. Supplementing with lysine (and foods containing it) can help cold sores heal faster.

One small study showed that a single treatment with lysine ointment led to full resolution of cold sores in 40% of participants in three days. After six days, 87% of cold sores had resolved. Untreated cold sores can last for up to 21 days, so lysine makes a big difference in healing time.

L-lysine is the form of lysine that can be most easily absorbed by the human body. Lysine is found in the following foods:

  • Eggs.
  • Yogurt and cheese.
  • Soybeans.
  • Cod and sardines.
  • Meats such as pork, turkey, and chicken.

Lysine supplements are also available over the counter in capsule, tablet, and powder form.

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