Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are thin, fluid-filled blisters commonly appearing on the lips or even in the mouth. A spot that itches, tingles, burns, or induces pain is often the first symptom of a cold sore. A blister can typically develop within six to forty-eight hours, with the skin surrounding the blisters becoming swollen, red, and painful. After a few days, the blisters can break open, leaking a clear fluid. After that, it scabs over and will usually heal within a few days but can last up to two weeks.
Cold sore treatment does not eliminate the virus entirely. Since the virus remains dormant within the body between infections, many individuals get cold sores continuously for the remainder of their lives, although the first outbreak is usually the worst. To prevent an outbreak, it is first important to understand what causes them.
What Causes Cold Sores
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes cold sores. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are the two forms of this virus, typically causing herpes labialis (mouth sores) and genital herpes (genital sore), respectively. According to World Health Organization records, globally, 67% of the population aged below 50 carries HSV-1. The herpes simplex virus typically reaches the body through a crack in the skin inside or near the mouth.
It is typically transmitted when one comes into contact with a cold sore, or contaminated fluid. This happens when touching an infected person’s saliva, kissing them, sharing razors, or eating utensils. When a parent has cold sores, it is common for the illness to spread to his or her infant in this manner.
Not all those infected with the virus experience recurrent cold sores. Those with weakened immune systems risk reoccurrence or other complications caused by this virus. These are people with severe burns, HIV, organ donor recipients, or those undergoing chemotherapy.
Typically, you’ll experience itchiness on your lips or tingling for one or two days until the cold sore begins to develop. This process is recognized as a “prodrome.” Suppose you’ve experienced cold sore outbreaks in the past. In that case, you will understand this sensation more easily than anyone who has never been impacted. Though not a clear warning sign, cold sores are triggered by hormonal fluctuations, fatigue, sun exposure, illness, or stress.
Prevention & Treatment Tips
The sores tend to clear up on their own within days or a few weeks, though the uneasiness makes most people want to hasten the healing process. You can use cold packs on the sores to ease the discomfort. Cold sore treatment is more effective if carried out during the tingling, itching stage. Treating it at this stage may prevent sores from popping up or lasting for shorter periods.
Valacyclovir or alternative antiviral medications such as acyclovir or famciclovir should be used regularly to avoid cold sores. This decreases the likelihood of a cold sore recurring by around one-third. Antiviral drugs can be either topical or oral. However, oral types have been proven more effective than topical options.
It also helps to steer clear of triggers, such as sun or wind exposure, or eczema flares, which may cause the cold sore virus. Practicing frequent hand washing and managing stress also lowers the frequency of contracting cold sores. Using sunscreen will help if sun exposure is a potential trigger. Purportedly, using the amino acid lysine as a dietary supplement may help avoid cold sores. However, the evidence to support this is minimal.
If you frequently get cold sores, consult your doctor to confirm if there may be an underlying cause. This may include immune system changes, hormonal changes, or another illness or viral infection in the body. Once the underlying issues are treated, it reduces your chances of have frequent reoccurrences of cold sores.
While there is no cold sore cure, managing the symptoms to prevent breakouts is usually adequate. Additionally, avoid your triggers, wash your hands often, avoid stress, and maintain a healthy diet.