Does Tea Tree Oil Work For Cold Sores?
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are a fairly common infection affecting about 20-40% of the population globally. Cold sores are small blisters like rashes that develop around the corners of the mouth or on the lips.
Depending upon their occurrence, cold sores can be of two types;
1. Primary – This is when a person is first infected with HSV-I. The infection is often a severe one and may be accompanied by other presenting symptoms such as;
Recurrent – Recurrent infection is when the cold sores re-appear. Recurrent infections present with signs and symptoms of a lesser intensity than primary ones.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cold Sores Include
- Herpes simplex rash begins as tiny blisters.
- The blisters are very painful. They may itch, burn, or cause a tingling sensation.
- The blisters, later on, turn into crusts that break open.
- Multiple blisters may occur at a time
- The cold sores blisters may last for about 7-10 days after which scabs begin to form.
- Cold sores generally heal completely without leaving any scars.
Conventional treatment of cold sores with acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir usually suppress or shorten the duration of the illness. Over the last few years, essential oils have garnered a lot of attention by virtue of their ability to treat disease conditions naturally with the least possible side effects.
In the case of cold sores, essential oils like tea tree oil can be used along with conventional anti-viral treatment. The most common question to arise is – is tea tree oil good for cold sores.
What Are The Causes Of Cold Sores?
Cold sores are caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus type-I (HSV-I). Once you have had cold sores, the herpes simplex virus remains dormant within the body and it may reactivate and trigger infection under favorable conditions like:
- Cold and flu
- Hormonal changes like menopause or menstrual cycles
- Excessive stress
The blisters are heavily infested with the virus so it is important to take precautions to not spread the virus by avoiding any direct contact with other people such as kissing, sharing lipsticks and other cosmetics, sharing clothes or towels and utensils like cutlery. Particular care must be taken to avoid contact with high-risk group individuals such as;
- Pregnant women
- Elderly patients
- Patients with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension
- Patients with a weak or compromised immune status as in those with auto-immune diseases, HIV or those on chemotherapeutic drugs
Is Tea Tree Oil Good For Cold Sores?
Herbal plants and their essences or oils have been a significant part of traditional medicine. Tea tree oil has natural broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties and is also effective against herpes simplex virus.
It, therefore, supports the immune system by virtue of its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties by enhancing the process of healing and promotes faster recovery from signs and symptoms.
Tea tree oil, as well as other essential oils, possess compounds which can be effectively used for the treatment of infectious diseases, such as;
- Phenolic compounds
There is plenty of research to prove that the herpes virus is susceptible to several essential oils and their constituents. Herpes simplex virus strains that are resistant to acyclovir have also been found to be susceptible to essential oils as their mode of action is quite different from synthetic drugs.
The antiviral activity of tea tree oil against herpes simplex virus type-I (HSV-I) works in the following ways;
- Viral particle inactivation
- Adsorption inhibition
- Growth inhibition of the virus
Since tea tree oil has such amazing anti-microbial properties, it is being widely used in several cosmetics and skincare products. A major advantage of tea tree oil over synthetic drugs is that tea tree oil is relatively inexpensive, more tolerable by patients and the virus is very less likely to develop a resistance towards it.
Side Effects Of Using A Tea Tree Oil For Cold Sores
Tea tree oil is generally well tolerated. There are no documented drug interactions of tea tree oil so it can be safely used by almost everybody.
Tea tree oil possesses strong anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It is, therefore, one of the best alternative treatments available for the management of cold sores; however, some concerns have been expressed regarding its toxicity.
People have documented certain side effects towards topical or oral use of tea tree oil especially by ones who were allergic to it. Some of the side effects of tea tree oil were possibly reported due to;
- Oral use – oral ingestion of tea tree oil can be potentially toxic
- Overuse – excess use of the oil can cause skin irritation
- Allergy to components of tea tree oil is one of the commonest reasons for side effects
- Overdose or unmonitored dose
Some of the reported side effects of tea tree oil occur due to inappropriate quantity or using the oil directly without a carrier oil. Some side effects include;
- Burn like skin reaction
- Skin irritation
- Redness and swelling of the affected area
Side effects of tea tree oil or any other essential oil can be avoided if you know exactly how to use these oils. Some tips for using tea tree oil safely for cold sores are;
- Essential oils are nothing but highly concentrated plant extracts. The quantity of essential oil required is very minute and it has to be diluted in a carrier oil like coconut oil or olive oil and then used.
- Once prepared, the preparation should only be dabbed on the skin lightly and not rubbed
- Tea tree oil must be used only by adults or people over the age of 12 years. It should be avoided in children and pregnant women due to its possible toxicity
It is always advisable to get proper directions from a qualified person about proper tea tree oil or even other essential oils in order to avoid unwanted side effects.
Also, it is important to understand that essential oils can be used along with anti-viral medicines to support the immune system and promote faster healing. It is not meant to replace conventional treatment.