What are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are blisters which occur on the mouth and lips, they are a symptom caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The herpes simplex virus has two types of infection, the HSV-1 type (oral herpes) and the HSV-2 type (genital herpes). Cold sores are commonly caused by the HSV-1 type of the virus and is passed on through close contact with someone that has the infection. HSV-1 is often passed on from one person to the next through kissing and the sharing of objects such as cutlery, lipstick, creams, toothbrushes and razors.
The HSV-1 virus usually remains dormant under the skin but often when your immune system weakens through stress or illness, the HSV-1 can cause an outbreak of cold sores. Cold sores typically take up to 10 days to heal, however, this healing process can be uncomfortable and painful. It is important to use prescription medication in the treatment of cold sores to help to get rid of them at a much faster rate.
What causes Cold Sores?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV); more specifically the HSV-1 type of the infection. Whilst not as common, cold sores can also be caused by the other type of HSV which is the HSV-2 type. HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes but it can cause oral herpes in the form of cold sores as a result of oral sex transmission.
The frequency of cold sore outbreaks varies significantly. Cold sore outbreaks can occur frequently or very infrequently depending on the person. In order to treat the painful and uncomfortable sores that may appear on the mouth or face; antiviral medications are recommended to help clear up the outbreak and speed up the healing process.
Cold sores can be triggered by environmental factors such as sunlight due to increased UV light exposure whereby the immune system is suppressed, enabling the HSV-1 virus to become active and cause an outbreak. Other triggers such as a weakened immune system, illness and stress are also known cold sore outbreak triggers.
What are the symptoms of Cold Sores and how do they form?
The main symptoms of cold sores consist of the formation of blisters around the mouth which can be itchy, sore and uncomfortable. A tingling sensation may be felt before blisters start to form and is a common warning sign before an outbreak occurs. The blisters that form due to cold sores can crack and bleed which can be particularly uncomfortable.
Cold sores develop and form in different stages:
- Tingling, itching or burning sensation.
- Small fluid blister(s) start to form.
- The blister will fill with fluid and bust.
- The scab formed will slowly heal within the next few days.
It’s important to use antiviral medication early on to significantly reduce the length of time symptoms last for. Cold sores can take up to 10 days to heal in some cases, therefore, prescription medication is recommended to clear cold sores quickly.
What should you do and not do if you have a Cold Sore outbreak?
When experiencing an outbreak of cold sores it’s important to manage it effectively, this is necessary to ease discomfort, speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of passing the virus on.
The Do’s and Don'ts of having cold sores:
- Do: Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Do: Wash your hands before and after applying the cream.
- Do: Use lip balm with SPF 15 or above.
- Do: Eat cool, soft foods.
- Do: Take painkillers to ease pain and swelling.
- Do not: touch your cold sore.
- Do not: kiss anyone when you have a cold sore.
- Do not: share anything you come into contact with (e.g. cutlery, lipstick).
- Do not: eat salty, acidic food.
- Do not: have oral sex until your cold sore has completely healed.