Cold sores, alternatively referred to as fever blisters, are fairly common and many people have experienced them. It’s believed that a considerable proportion of people worldwide have the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which causes cold sores. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for HSV yet. Therefore, once you contract it, you’ll have to live with it. However, there are ways to manage it. That said, here’s what you need to know about cold sores:
1. What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are fluid-filled blisters that typically develop near the lip area of your face. However, they may also appear on other body parts, such as the nose, gum, or chin. They tend to induce pain in the affected area, resulting in a burning sensation. In some severe situations, they may appear on other parts of your body, such as your hands. They usually form in patches that eventually burst. It usually takes two to three weeks for the leftover wounds to heal, but it may take longer in severe situations.
2. Are Cold Sores Contagious?
Yes, they are. The herpes simplex virus is the one which is contagious, that’s why it’s such a common condition. It can be spread through saliva or simply coming into contact with someone who has HSV. People who are infected with HSV are most contagious when they have visible wounds.
Therefore, you certainly shouldn’t be sharing personal items with someone with cold sores. Something as simple as sharing a fork or an innocent kiss with someone with cold sores could cause them to spread. Moreover, children frequently contract their when they’re young due to their propensity for being touchy-feely.
There’s no rocket science required to understand that in order to get cold sores, you must’ve contracted the herpes simplex virus (HSV) somehow. The virus has two variants, both of which can cause cold sores. However, type 1 usually causes cold sores, while type 2 usually causes genital herpes. But, either variant can lead to sores.
4. Potential Complications
It’s pretty rare for one to suffer from serious complications resulting from cold sores. But, bear in mind that exceptions do exist and complications may arise once the virus spreads to other parts of your body. Plus, other situations or conditions could lead to complications if you contract the HSV virus. Here are some instances:
- Fingers – You may ask, how can HSV get to your fingers? One way is if children can infect their fingers by sucking them constantly. When HSV spreads to the fingers, the condition is called herpes whitlow.
- Eyes – Although not common, cold sores could cause eye infections. Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis can cause eyes to swell, sores to develop on the eyelids, and vision loss if left untreated.
- Brain and Spinal Cord – HSV can induce brain swelling, which is known as encephalitis, which can be fatal. HSV could also cause inflammation in the spinal cord, a condition called meningitis.
- Genitals – HSV could also cause genital warts or ulcers on your genitals.
- Skin – For those people who have eczema, they have an increased risk that sores could develop around their bodies. So, if you have eczema and experience cold sore symptoms, you might want to visit the doctor for precaution’s sake.
- Newborn babies – Babies under six months are at a higher risk of experiencing high fever and seizures since their immune systems are underdeveloped.
5. Preventative Measures
Here’s how you can prevent contracting HSV and cold sores:
- Desist from sharing your personal items, like your razor, especially with people who don’t live with you.
- Avoid direct skin contact. Simply put, avoid touching other people, especially babies, if you have cold sores.
- Wash your hands thoroughly, often.
- Prioritize sleep because it’s good for your immune system.
- Wear lip balm with sunscreen (SPF).
- Try to stay healthy because illness or fever could trigger a cold sore. This also means that you should eat a balanced diet. A shortage of vital nutrients could compromise your immune system, increasing your chances of getting sick. You can also find a great post to read online regarding the importance of a healthy diet in preventing cold sores.
6. Frequency of Occurrence
There’s no set pattern for how frequently cold sores emerge. They could come once or twice, and then leave. They can occur several times a year in certain people, while some people may never suffer from cold sores even if they get HSV. It’s safe to say that the frequency of occurrence varies between individuals.
7. Who Can Get Affected By Cold Sores?
Anyone can get affected by HSV. Both the old and young could contract this virus since it’s highly contagious. But, most children are exposed to it during their formative years. As you grow older, the chances of having recurring cold sores start to decrease, but you can still contract the virus.
With cold sores, realize that people may experience different symptoms. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may experience some soon after catching HSV-1. However, the symptoms are usually mild. Nonetheless, once infected with the virus, some patients experience recurring episodes of cold sores.
Cold sore symptoms emerge in several stages. These symptoms may occur between two to 20 days after exposure to HSV-1.
- About 24 hours prior to the onset of the cold sores, there may be tingling or burning sensations around the lips, chin, cheeks, or nose.
- You’ll notice the area starting to redden as the painful blisters form.
- Then, fluid-filled blisters start forming.
- The blisters will begin to ooze fluid after about three days.
- The cold sores develop a crust on the affected area after four days. These may crack or bleed during the healing process.
- After that, the scab falls off and may leave pink scars that’ll be visible for a few days. It’ll take about three weeks for the sores to heal completely.
The signs and symptoms will vary across individuals. You can expect that you may encounter more severe symptoms if it’s your first outbreak. But, as your body builds immunity against the virus, you may not experience serious symptoms.
If it’s your first outbreak, here are some of the symptoms you may notice:
- Pain in the gums
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
Remember, it’s not always the case that people experience these symptoms the first time.
Now, once you contract the virus, it doesn’t go away, unfortunately. Once the cold sores have healed, the virus lies dormant in your body. But, some things could trigger or activate the virus again. These triggers may differ from person to person, but it’s often the case that the triggers are consistent for those who experience recurring cold sores. If you know your triggers, you can avoid them.
Here are some of the factors triggering cold sores:
- Sun exposure
- Dental work
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy or menstruation
10. How To Speed Up The Healing Process
As mentioned, you can expect that it’ll take at least two weeks for the sores to heal up. However, you can use some medicines to speed up the healing process.
- Creams and ointments – You can buy creams or ointments without a prescription from your local pharmacy that should help the sores heal quickly. Upon application, note that you may feel pain or itching, although this will dissipate after a while. The sooner you apply these products, the better.
- Antiviral tablets – You could also get over-the-counter antiviral tablets with or without a prescription.
- Painkillers – For those who’ll experience a lot of pain during the infection, you could get an over-the-counter topical pain relieve,r such as lidocaine. Additionally, you could try taking some ibuprofen or paracetamol. However, it’d be best to consult your doctor first to get recommendations regarding which pain medication you should get.
- Don’t eat acidic foods – Foods like tomatoes and orange juice could aggravate the sores because of their acidity.
- Cool compress – Using a cool, damp cloth could soothe your cold sores. Or, you could use ice to make the cloth surface colder. But, ensure that you clean the towel after using it.
- Intravenous (IV) antiviral medicine – This applies to those individuals with severe cases of cold sores. So, if the other medicines mentioned above prove ineffective, your doctor may decide to administer antiviral medicine through IV, which means it’ll be injected directly into your bloodstream.
Cold sores are a common condition. They’re very rarely a life-threatening condition to have, but it should be noted that there are some exceptions. Thus, it’s essential not to ignore any symptoms when they occur. If you notice that the symptoms are getting progressively serious, you might want to visit the doctor. Bear in mind that anyone can get cold sores at any age. Plus, there’s a variety of variables that determine when, how, and who develops cold sores.
However, the thing that’s certain is that the herpes simplex virus is the one that causes these cold sores. So, if you don’t have HSV, you may not develop cold sores. But, note, however, that you could still have HSV, and symptoms may never surface. So, it’s always good to take preventative measures mentioned above for prudence’s sake.