Cold sores are another very common skin infection. They are caused by a virus called herpes simplex. The mention of herpes usually raises a lot of anxiety, as most people associate this name with a sexually transmitted disease. Indeed the cold sore virus is related to the one that causes genital herpes, but it has a very different mode of infection.
The cold sore infection is probably acquired by most people at some time in childhood. It is so widespread that it is practically impossible not to be exposed to it. Some people seem to have a natural resistance, while others suffer from severe attacks. It all depends on the way you’re made.
The first attack of cold sores can be quite severe, and can cause a very painful ulcerated mouth, associated with an unpleasant illness which makes the child quite unwell. After this the body’s immune system holds the virus in check, but seems never to be able to get rid of it completely. As a result, minor attacks recur at irregular intervals, usually when the child has a cold, or gets sunburnt or has other illnesses. Usually, with time, these attacks get less frequent and severe, but cold sores can keep recurring all through life. This is a nuisance, but is not dangerous.
The usual place for cold sores is on the lips, but they can occur on other parts of the face, and rarely on the rest of the skin. The sore itself is preceded by a tingly feeling, and soon after a group of clear blisters appear, which quickly form a scab, healing after about a week.
Once a cold sore has formed, there is little that can be done to stop it progressing, or speed up healing. Various cold sore remedies are sold by the chemist. What these do is minimise the symptoms of the cold sore, but they don’t stop the natural progression. If cold sores become a really severe problem, and fortunately this is rare, see your doctor, as preventative treatment is available.