Many of us will never experience a cold sore, but for those of us who develop them regularly, trust us – you are not missing out! The good news is, our Haven pharmacists have put together all of the information you need about cold sores, where they come from, how they spread and how to treat them. If you are concerned over the size of your cold sore, or the length of time it has been present for, call into any Haven Pharmacy where our expert staff will be happy to offer you advice and guidance.
What are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are mostly a benign viral infection that cause sores to form around the nose and mouth. Generally, the virus lays dormant in the body. However, in times of stress or illness the virus may be triggered and red blisters which can develop into weeping sores may appear.
What Causes Cold Sores?
The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores. HSV-1 is very common. When exposed to the virus for the first time most people will become infected however only 10% will develop cold sores. The sores appear 2-20 days after initial infection and last for about 10-14 days.
How are Cold Sores Spread?
Most people are infected by the virus as infants. It is spread by close contact, kissing or sharing cups, cutlery, face cloths or towels with friends and family members.
People with the virus may spread the sores from their mouths to their eyes by touching their mouth and then touching their eyes. It is important to contact your doctor immediately if your eye becomes red and sore. The virus may also spread to the sex organs or any part of the body where there is broken skin.
Who is at Risk?
Usually, cold sores are only a minor nuisance, however babies and people with skin conditions such as eczema may become quite ill with the herpes virus.
What are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?
- First you will feel a tingling, burning, itchy sensation where the sore is about to appear. This is the sign to start treatment.
- Then a red and swollen patch will appear which will blister into a cold sore over a 24-hour period. Sores can, at this point, be painful, and sometimes make talking and eating difficult. At this point the treatment will reduce healing time.
- Without treatment, the sores become painful and begin to weep and crack.
- In roughly a week the sores begin to crust and scab over. The scab will fall off soon without scarring.
- The cold sore should heal completely within 10 to 14 days since it first began. However, the virus can be spread from the time of tingling until the crust has dried into a scab.
What is the Treatment for Cold Sores?
- Most cold sores heal by themselves in 10-14 days.
- Cold sore treatments, available over the counter from your local Haven Pharmacy, will include anti-viral medications, aesthetics, antiseptics or natural herbal remedies. These remedies will encourage healing, relieve pain or if caught in time help to prevent the cold sore from developing.
- Talk to the pharmacist to find the most appropriate treatment for you. It is important to tell the pharmacist if you are pregnant or breast feeding.
- The best time to treat a cold sore is before it happens. This is at the initial phase when the tingling symptoms occur. Applying an anti-viral cream to the affected area will help to prevent the cold sore developing further.
- Directions for the anti-viral products may differ, however most will require the cream to be applied 5 times a day- roughly every 2 hours.
- For blisters that have broken out, you can keep the cold sore clean by bathing it with warm water and patting it dry with tissue paper or a cotton bud. Washing hands before applying treatment is very important.
- Washing hands after using the cold sore cream and avoiding re-using the same finger to get more cream out of the tube can prevent contamination of the medicine.
- Using a lip moisturising cream can help with dry cracking lips that may result in further infection.
Why Do Cold Sores Keep Coming Back?
After the initial attack, the virus gets into the nerves at the part of the area the cold sore appeared. The virus lies dormant here until the next attack is triggered. Triggers include stress, tiredness, menstruation, pregnancy, strong sunlight or sunburn. A cold sore may also break out if you are feeling run down or have another illness
It’s important to manage your cold sore and understand the triggers. If you are at a stressful period of your life manage your stress by exercising or relaxation techniques, boost your immune system with healthy eating or adding a multivitamin. Also avoid dangerous sun exposure and protect your skin using sunscreens (SPF30+)
How Can You Prevent Cold Sores Spreading to Others?
- Avoiding transfer of the virus to others means avoiding skin contact . Kissing, touching or picking the cold sore should be avoided especially when it has blistered and is weeping.
- Use your own towel, eating utensils and don’t allow others drink out of your drinks.
- Use your own lip balms, wipe lipstick testers and preferably use them on your hand.
- Don’t touch the cold sore unless necessary for treatment and always wash your hands afterwards.
When Should You See a Doctor About Your Cold Sores?
- If your cold sore spreads from your lips to other areas of the face, or if cold sores appear on other parts of your body.
- If your cold sore has lasted longer than three weeks.
- If you are experiencing a very severe cold sore or repeated attacks of cold sores.