Cold sores. Yuck! Sufferers dread the tingling and itching that signal a cold sore is on the way. These symptoms can occur up to two days before there is anything visible at the usual cold sore hangouts around the mouth or nose.
Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus 1(HSV1) which stays in our bodies for life after we have been exposed to it. Other herpes viruses that cause different conditions also stay in our body for life after we have been exposed to them.
HSV1 is so common that 90% of us carry it though only 30% actually get cold sores. People usually get the virus as a child or young adult though often cold sores don’t occur when we first get the virus.
How is the cold sore virus spread?
It is spread from person to person through contact with saliva or by touching the blister. Unfortunately the virus can be present in the skin cells when there are no visible signs of a cold sore and so it is spread without knowing.
It is important NOT to share
- drink bottles
- cutlery and drinking glasses
- lip balms/lipsticks
and anything else that involves contact with the mouth and saliva.
Kissing is a common way to transfer the virus. It is important not to kiss young babies and children or those with lowered immune system on the face to prevent virus transfer.
What triggers a cold sore?
What causes the body to activate the virus and make cold sores appear? They usually occur when our immune system is lowered ie when we are run down. Cold sores often occur after experiencing something like a cold, hence the name. Exposure to sun or wind as well as stress and general illness can lead to an outbreak.
Symptoms of cold sores
Tingling and itching, as mentioned above, are often the first symptoms experienced. Fluid filled blisters that are often painful occur next. The blisters can burst after a few days and become dry crusted sores that heal.
Treatment of cold sores
Cold sores do go away on their own if left alone. It is tempting to scratch or pick at them which can lead to a bacterial infection of the sore or even viral infection of the eye if someone touches their cold sore and then their eye.
To shorten the duration of a cold sore it is very important to start treatment when the tingle or itch first appears.
- Aciclovir 5% cream should be applied 5 times daily for 5 days when symptoms first occur. Once the cold sore is out this is not effective
- Antiviral tablets available from the Pharmacist are effective if taken on the day the tingle/itch first appears
- If the cold sore is already out there are topical treatments that can help prevent secondary bacterial infection and also help with the pain and discomfort
- Hydrocolloid dressings are also available when the sore is present to seal off the wound to allow it to heal in a clean environment
- Lysine supplements help to treat cold sores and prevent them in people prone to outbreaks.
Prevention of cold sores
Basically if we avoid getting stressed and sick we can avoid cold sores! This is easier said than done!
Other, more manageable, prevention tips include wearing sunscreen, keeping out of the wind, avoiding close contact with someone who has a cold sore and NO lip licking.
If you think you have a cold sore please speak with your Pharmacist who can provide the best treatment for you.