Cold Sores, what are they?
Hiding a cold sore, healing a cold sore
and how to get rid of them!
What are cold sores?:
Cold sores are very common and quite contagious. Sometimes called fever blisters, they are caused by the Herpes Simplex 1 virus (HSV-1). They can appear as a single blister or a cluster of them, usually recurring in the same location, including on and around your lips, nose, chin or cheeks. These particular sores are often confused with canker sores, but canker sores are actually sores or ulcers that occur inside your mouth, and are not contagious.
– There are two types of herpes simplex virus;
– HSV-1, which is the most common type, usually causes cold sores (oral herpes). HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes. But both types can infect any area of the skin or mucous membranes;
– Approximately 80 percent of the adult population have antibodies against HSV-1 in their blood, which means they have already been exposed to the virus;
– Around 25 percent of the adult population have antibodies against HSV-2;
– An estimated 1 in 5 North Americans are affected by cold sores each year;
– on average, people experience 2 to 3 outbreaks per year;
– we are usually infected by the virus when we are children;
– once the virus enters our bodies it never leaves;
– most of the time the virus hibernates or sleeps in our central nervous system, but certain triggers cause it to “wake up” and cause cold sores;
– the most common triggers include stress, menstruation, sunlight, fever, dry chapped lips, or local skin trauma.
– Around 20 percent of the people with HSV antibodies have recurrent attacks throughout their lives.
What causes the virus?:
The virus can only be transmitted by close personal contact such as kissing. Most people will have come into contact with the virus between the ages of three and five but will not show any symptoms until after puberty.
Remember that these viral breakouts are contagious. The virus can be passed from person to person and from one area of your body to another through skin-to-skin contact – even when blisters are not present. The virus is often transferred by kissing or oral sex, as well as by hands or fingers that have touched a sore. The virus can even be passed by sharing cups, cans, glasses, eating utensils, towels and food.
A weakening of the body’s defences, due to a severe cold for example, can lead to a reactivation of the virus and a return of the blisters.
What are the symptoms?:
The disorder is characterized by groups of fluid-filled blisters which appear on red swollen areas of the skin or on the mucous membranes. And mucous membranes are usually any of the body’s opening. The areas can be tender and painful. The blisters heal without scarring but have a tendency to recur. The virus invades the cells of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin. The virus travels from the epidermis along the nerve paths to the roots of the nerves where it becomes inactive. The primary infection can progress in different ways. Some people only have very mild symptoms or none at all. The first outbreak starts one to three weeks after the virus has been contracted. It subsides spontaneously within a few weeks. Later, if the virus is reactivated, the blisters will return.
Many people who suffer from these blisters know when one is coming by the tingling or burning, redness, itching or pain they feel around their lips or mouth.
This is the first stage and these symptoms are sometimes called prodromal symptoms. This first stage can happen very quickly – from a few hours to a day or two. You might even go to bed without any symptoms and wake up to find you have a blister!
The next stage is the formation of one or more blisters. After the blister(s) has developed, it breaks and a yellow crust forms. The sores become covered by scabs that, typically, fall off after 8 to 10 days. The virus can spread until the sores are completely covered by scabs. Within a few days this off and leaves behind a pinkish skin that heals without a scar.
In children, the virus can infect the mouth and throat. The infection may be accompanied by a fever and general aches and pains.
lips pucker lips
What can be done to prevent these breakouts?:
You can take steps to guard against these viruses, prevent them from occurring and to prevent the virus from being passed to other parts of your body or to other persons:
– use a lip moisturizer regularly to prevent your lips from becoming dry or chapped;
– the same lip balm could spread the virus if the blister is in its contagious period;
– try to avoid triggers such as stress or overexposure to the sun (get a sunburn, get a blister);
– limit your exposure to the sun or UV lamps, and always use a sunscreen lip balm with an SPF of at least 15;
– during times of high stress, consider trying relaxation therapy;
– keep your immune system strong by maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough sleep;
– avoid kissing and skin contact with people, especially children, while blisters are present;
– avoid sharing food, cups/glasses/cans, utensils and towels when blisters are present;
– keep your hands clean – wash them frequently to avoid passing on the virus or infecting other areas of your body;
– avoid direct contact with the sores. These can appear on every part of the body, including the fingers and genitals;
– wash your hands after touching the lips;
– its tempting, but avoid picking at the sores as this can spread the virus to other parts of the body or result in a bacterial infection of the sores;
– the body’s defences can be strengthened by a healthy lifestyle;
– the factors which trigger outbreaks differ from person to person;
– menstruation, fever and exposure to sunlight can cause a reactivation in some people. In others, there is no demonstrable cause. Using a sunblock may help to prevent a reactivation;
– even happy occasions like a prom or wedding can bring on an outbreak.
How are these sores diagnosed?:
A combination of the patient’s medical history and the appearance of the sores will usually be sufficient for a diagnosis. A scrape or a blood sample can be used to confirm it. Possible complications are:
– the sores may become infected by bacteria;
– if the condition spreads to the eyes, it can damage vision;
– in patients who suffer from atopic dermatitis, the cold sores can, in rare cases, spread to larger parts of the body;
– massive cold sores can be a sign that another disease, pneumonia or HIV for example, has weakened the body’s defences.
How are cold sores treated?
You can’t cure or prevent these viral bliters, but you can take steps to reduce how often they occur and shorten the length of an outbreak.
Cold sores often clear up without treatment in 7 to 10 days. Early treatment during the initial tingling or burning stage may stop the blister from forming, or help the blister heal faster once it has formed. There are certain non-prescription and prescription products that may help, including Abreva, Lipactin, Zovirax, Denavir and Valtrex.
An alternative to pharmaceuticals would be anti-viral essential oils. Tea Tree and Manuka essential oils are probably the strongest anti-virals, and can be dabbed on the infected area with a Q-tip to neutralize the exposed virus as well as help dry up the affected area.
Recurrent severe attacks can be treated by anti-HSV agents in pill form.
The development of the disease differs from person to person. Some people will have few or no reactivations while others have recurrent outbreaks. Recurrences seem to become less frequent with age.