Cold sores — also known as fever blisters — are an incredibly common viral infection. They are usually tiny, fluid-filled blisters that tend to appear on or around the lips. These blisters often occur in groups. After the blisters burst, a scab-like crust forms over the resulting area. Cold sores tend to heal in two weeks without scarring in most cases.
Cold sores are spread from via close contact from person to person, such as kissing or other intimate gestures. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) which is a close relative of the one that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). Both the viruses can affect your mouth or genital area and can be spread by oral sex. Cold sores are contagious even if there is no visible sign of an outbreak.
Sadly, there's no cure for the HSV infection, and the blisters may return. Antiviral medications can help cold sores heal more quickly and may reduce the frequency of an outbreak. Refer to Virasoothe for more information on a natural alternative treatment.
(Painful and intrusive - Cold sores are never fun)
Symptoms of Cold Sores
A cold sore usually passes through a number of stages:
- Tingling and itching. Many cold sore sufferers tend to feel an itching, burning or tingling sensation around their lips for the days prior to a small, hard, painful mark appears and the blister erupts.
- Blisters. Small fluid-filled blisters typically appear along the outside edge of the lips. Cold sores can also occur around the nose or on the cheeks as well.
- Ooze & crusting. The small blisters may merge into larger ones and then burst, leaving shallow open sores that will ooze fluid and then crust over.
Symptoms vary, depending on whether this is a first outbreak or a recurrence. They may last several days, and the blister can take two or more weeks to heal thoroughly. Recurrences typically appear around the same spot each time and tend to be less severe than the initial outbreak, although this in itself is not an exact science.
During first-time sufferers, some people also experience:
- Painful eroded gums
- A Sore throat
- Slightly swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
Children under 5 years old may feel cold sores inside their mouths and the lesions are often mistaken for canker sores. Canker sores involve only the mucous membrane and are not caused by the herpes virus.
When should you see a doctor?
Cold sores will usually clear up in around a week or two if left alone. With the likes of Virasoothe, this can help prevent them and reduce the frequency of occurrence. See your doctor if:
- You have a weak immune system
- The cold sore doesn’t heal within two weeks
- Symptoms are severe and treatment isn’t assisting
- You have highly frequent recurrences of cold sores
- You start to experience irritation in your eyes
What Causes Cold Sores?
Cold sores are caused by particular strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 often causes cold sores. HSV-2 is most commonly responsible for genital herpes. That said, either type can cause sores in the facial region or around the genitals. Most people who are infected with the virus that causes cold sores never develop signs and symptoms.
Cold sores are at their most contagious stage when oozing blisters are present. You can transmit the virus to others, even if you don't have blisters yourself. Shared eating cutlery, razors and even towels, as well as exchanging body fluids, may spread HSV-1. Oral sex can spread HSV-1 to the genitals and HSV-2 to the lips.
Once you have had an episode of the herpes infection, the virus tends to lie dormant in the nerve cells in your skin and can emerge as another cold sore in the same place as previous. Recurrence can be triggered by:
- A viral infection and fever
- Hormonal changes, such as menstruation
- Prolonged exposure to sunlight and also wind
- Changes to the immune system
What Are Health Risks Of Cold Sores?
Around 80% of all adults worldwide — even those who have never had symptoms of a cold sore — test positive for evidence of the virus that causes cold sores.
Some people who have a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of complications from the virus. Medical conditions and treatments that increase your risk of complications include:
- Severe (i.e 3rd degree) burns
- Eczema or other skin ailments
- Cancer chemotherapy
- Anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants
Complications from Cold Sores
On rare occasions, and in some people, the virus that causes cold sores can also cause problems in other areas of the body, including:
- Fingertips. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can, in some instances be spread to the fingers. This type of infection is commonly referred to as herpes whitlow. Children who suck their thumbs may transfer the infection from their mouths to their thumbs.
- Eyes. The virus can sometimes cause an eye infection. Repeat infections may cause scarring and injury, which can lead to vision problems or even blindness in severe cases.
- Widespread areas of skin. People who have a skin condition called eczema are at a higher risk of cold sores spreading other parts their bodies. This can become a medical emergency.
- Other organs. In people with weakened immune systems (auto immune disease sufferers for example, the virus can also affect organs such as the spinal cord and brain.
(Cold sores can affect any one of any age)
How To Prevent Cold Sore Outbreaks?
To help in reducing the risk of spreading cold sores to other people, or to other parts of your own body, you might try some of these precautions:
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact with others while cold sore blisters are present. The virus spreads most easily when there are moist secretions from the blisters.
- Avoid sharing items. Utensils, towels, lip balm and other items can spread the virus when blisters are present.
- Keep your hands clean. When you have a cold sore, wash your hands carefully before touching yourself and other people, especially babies.
While Cold sore & herpes occur frequently, there still tends to be a stigma relating to herpes in particular. It doesn’t mean the end of the world and it certainly doesn’t need to be the end of your romantic life.
With a few additional measures to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak, and including a quality natural treatment such as Virasoothe to your routine, cold sores and herpes are completely manageable.