Cold Sores: Everything You Wanted to Know and More! Alyssa McDonald, BScN
Cold sores are red, fluid filled blisters that often occur on the lips. These blisters are a skin eruption caused by the herpes simplex I virus. These blisters are non-curable, and non-preventable, but there are ways to decrease their duration, and decrease the frequency of the skin eruptions.
Herpes simplex I virus causes mouth cold sores, and Herpes simplex II virus causes genital herpes, but both herpes viruses can cause sores on both the mouth and the genitals. A person usually contracts the cold sore virus (herpes simplex I) from another person who is infected, and has open sores. Herpes simplex I can be shared through water bottles, razors, shared eating utensils, and kissing. Oral-genital contact can also cause the virus to be spread to the genitals.
Once a person is infected with the cold sore virus, it lies dormant in your skin cells and it may emerge again as a blister when the infection is active.
People may feel increased tingling, itching, or increased sensitivity to an infected area before a break out occurs. Fever, menstruation, stress, and sun exposure may increase the chances of an eruption.
Cold sores usually occur on the lips, but can occur on the nostrils, fingers, or chin. Rarely, they can occur on your gums, or roof of your mouth. Not to be confused with canker sores, which are ulcers instead of blisters. Cold sore blisters form, break, and then ooze. A crust forms after that, and pink skin forms after that, and when the sore is healed, it usually leaves no scaring. A cold sore can last from 10-14 days. Symptoms of a cold sore infection may not occur until 20 days after exposure!
Cold sores typically clear up on their own without treatment, but if a cold sore lasts longer than 14 days, a person should consider seeing a physician. If you are infected with the cold sore virus it is important to see a physician if you have:
· A pre-existing health condition that has suppressed your immune system
· Severe symptoms
· Symptoms that don’t go away in more than two weeks
· A frequent recurrence of blisters
· Any irritation in your eyes
Cold sores usually clear up on their own but you can use some home and over the counter (OTC) remedies to help ease irritation and pain.
Home remedies include:
· Hot and cold compresses, alternate between the two
· Letting it heal. Don’t pick or squeeze blisters
OTC remedies include:
· Topical lidocaine, to ease pain
· Abreva, which prevents infection in nearby skin cells of a cold sore infected area
· Acetaminophen, and Ibuprofen
A physician should be informed, as per the aforementioned reasons. A physician can prescribe antiviral medication if the break out is severe, you have frequent break outs, if you experience significant and related illness during an eruption, and if you have an identifiable trigger of cold sores such as sunlight.
There are a few ways cold sore infections can be prevented, they include:
· Avoid kissing and skin contact with people who are experiencing a break out of cold sore blisters.
· Avoid sharing items with someone with an open blister
· Wash your hands to prevent the transmission of infection
· Avoid triggers and unnecessary stress. Get enough sleep, avoid colds and flu, and avoid long periods of sun exposure.
· Use sunscreen.