Cold Sores

Cold sores are never any fun, here is some information explaining what a cold sore is, where is comes from and how it can be treated.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores, are groups of small blisters on the lip and around the mouth, they can also develop on the inside of the mouth. The skin around the blisters is often red, swollen and sore. In some cases, the blisters may break open and leak a clear fluid and then scab over after a few days. The healing time for a cold sore can be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are tow types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2, both of which can cause sores around the mouth and on the genitals. The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around our inside the mouth, and is usually spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid-such as from sharing eating utensils, cups, and razors. Kissing an infected person, or touching that person’s saliva may also cause you to get a cold sore. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to their children this way. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body. The first symptoms of cold sores may include pain around your mouth and on your lips, a fever, sore throat, or swollen glands in your neck or other parts of the body. Small children sometimes drool before a cold sore appears. After a blister appears, the cold sores usually break open, leak a clear fluid and then crust over and disappear after a couple of weeks. For some people, cold sores can be very painful and often reoccur.

How are cold sores treated?

Cold sores usually start to heal on their own within a few days. If they cause pain or make you feel embarrassed, they can be treated. Treatment may get rid of the cold sores, but it is usually only 1 to 2 days faster. But for people with painful cold sores, the treatment can help ease the pain and discomfort these sores cause. The herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores cannot be cured. Once you become infected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. If you get cold sores often, treatment can help reduce the number of cold sores you get and the severity of them. Here are a few tips to help keep from getting the herpes simplex virus:

  • Avoid coming in contact with infected body fluids, such as kissing an infected person.
  • Avoid sharing utensils, drinking cups, or other items a person with a cold sore may have used.
  • Avoid the things that trigger cold sores, such as stress, colds, and the flu. Sun exposure may also trigger cold sores.
  • If you are going to be out in the sun, be sure to use lip balm and sunscreen. Too much sunlight can cause the sores to flare.
  • When you have a cold sore, make sure to wash your hands often, and try not to touch your sore. This will help keep you from spreading the virus to other parts of your body, such as your eyes or genitals and to other people.

As was stated earlier, there is no cure for cold sores or the herpes simplex virus but there are some treatments to help with the discomfort they cause. Treatment with medicines whether over the counter or prescription depends on if you are having a first outbreak or a recurrent one and are trying to prevent future outbreaks. When treating a first outbreak of cold sores, oral antiviral medicines may reduce pain and slightly improve healing time. For treatment of recurrent cold sores, the following medicines may reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak.

  • Topical creams or ointments: these are available with or without a prescription and can help reduce pain, itching and healing time. Abreva and Zilactin are two of the products sold over the counter for the treatment of cold sores.
  • Oral antiviral medicines:  these are by prescription only and may be used when the first symptoms(such as burning or itching) begin. These medicines have little effect after the sore develops. These can also be taken daily to prevent recurring cold sores, especially in people who have frequent and painful outbreaks.
  • Placing a cool, wet towel on the sores 3 times a day for 20 minutes.
  • Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce the pain.
  • Using a mouth rinse that has baking soda to soothe a sore mouth.
  • Avoiding foods that contain acid (such as citrus fruits and tomatoes).

If you suffer from frequent outbreaks of cold sores, you may want to seek the advice of a health care professional.

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