If you are among the many thousands of people who endure the misery from cold sores then you’ll be familiar with both the physical discomfort and unsightly facial blemishes that are part of this condition.
Although there is currently no cure for cold sores – once you are infected with the virus it is with you for life – there are a number of things you can do to ease the symptoms of cold sores; namely reducing the discomfort or pain and ensuring the sore heals as quickly as possible and without scarring.
1. What are cold sores?
Cold sores are small, often painful sores that usually appear around the mouth, lips or nose. The sores start as blisters that often burst, weeping the clear fluid and after a few days will scab over and often take 7-10 days to heal completely.
What causes cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus I (HSV-1), which infect an estimated 70-80 percent of the population. The virus is highly contagious, which means that you should be both careful about becoming infected by someone with a cold sore as well as passing on cold sores to other people.
Once infected with the virus it inhabits the nerve cells until reactivated; this varies from person to person, but common cold sore triggers include stress, a cold or flu, lack of sleep, exposure to sunlight or menstruation.
Cold sore symptoms
The first sign that a cold sore is about to appear is often a tingling or itching sensation in the affected area, followed by the appearance of small fluid-filled blisters; these appear between a several hours to a few days after the tingling first appears and several of the blisters may merge.
You should be careful not to spread the infection to other areas of your body and wash your hands frequently. Be particularly careful of your eyes as the virus can cause complications, including loss of vision.
2. Cold sore treatment
One of the problems of HSV-1 is that once infected it inhabits a sufferer’s body for their entire life. Lying dormant in the nerve cells, it may reoccur when the body’s defenses are reduced, such as when the sufferer is suffering from a cold or from stress, as mentioned previously. As such there is no actual cure for cold sores, although the symptom itself – the sore – may be treated to ensure rapid healing, as well as reducing discomfort and preventing the likelihood of recurrence.
The only way of ensuring you don’t suffer from cold sores is to make sure you don’t get infected by the virus in the first place and so you should be careful about kissing anyone who is infected while they have a cold sore. You should also be careful about not being infected through contaminated eating or drinking utensils. Equally, if you are a sufferer you should be careful not to spread the virus to other people.
Cold sore medication
While it is not actually possible to completely cure cold sores, there is anti-viral medication available.
The medication, containing either penciclovir or acyclovir, acts as a suppressant to the herpes simplex virus; that is to say, if it is applied when the sufferer first experiences the tingling sensation it will interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate and much reduces the impact of the cold sore outbreak. These treatments are currently expensive, but when used correctly can provide a great deal of relief.
Home remedies for cold sores
There are a number of home remedies for cold sores that many people swear by and they may provide relief for you. They fall into prevention, pain relief and healing.
– Avoid the following situations to prevent recurrence: intense sunlight (or apply sunscreen), as some people’s cold sore attacks are brought on by exposure to the ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight; stress; lack of sleep.
– Take regular L-Lysine supplements and double the dose when you experience the tingling sensation. Apply ice to the area as soon as you experience the tingling sensation. This can prevent the cold sore from appearing.
– Cover the cold sore with a petroleum product such as Vaseline to prevent secondary bacterial infection and to help prevent spreading the herpes infection both to other areas of your body and to other people.
– If the cold sore is uncomfortable or painful you should take a pain killer or use a local anesthetic. Also, avoid acidic foods and salt, which are uncomfortable on the sore and may irritate it.
– Use a topical vitamin E cream to help heal the sores and prevent scarring.
In this article I looked at what cold sores are, how they are caused and how to prevent them from occurring. I also discussed cold sore treatments and why there is nothing that is guaranteed to completely cure cold sores, plus how to deal with the symptoms so that they are as short lived as possible.
This article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice and so if your cold sore persists you should see your physician or a qualified pharmacist, particularly if you suffer from a weakened immune system through HIV infection or cancer.