A cold sore is sometimes referred to as a fever blister, and it is a small cluster of blisters typically located on the lip or around the mouth. Around the blisters, the skin is usually sore, swollen and red; besides, the blisters can break open, leaking a clear fluid, before scabbing over within several days. Cold sores will usually heal within a few days to two weeks.
What Is a Cold Sore?
Cold sores are somewhat painful blisters which are small and typically occur close to a person’s lips. These blisters are caused by HSV-1, herpes simplex virus-1. The reality, however, is that they won’t just appear on the lips; they can also be inside the mouth, in/on the nose, or on the face. Although these areas are most common, the sores can be anywhere, including the genitals.
Genital herpes is not usually due to HSV-1; instead, it is typically caused by HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus-2), which is spread via sexual contact. Despite HSV-1 usually leading to sores close to the mouth and HSV-2 typically leading to genital sores, either virus can cause sores in any location.
As mentioned, cold sores are due to HSV (usually HSV-1) and the virus can be passed by any skin-to-skin contact, including kissing. It is possible to pass on the symptoms and accompanying virus whether or not you are displaying the symptoms yourself, provided that the virus is currently active and this can occur via your saliva.
The chances of passing on HSV are greater if a cold sore is present, and you will be contagious until your sore completely heals.
Certain factors may trigger the virus to recur, leading to cold sores. Some of these can include:
- Having a cold
- Injury to the mouth (including a dental procedure)
- Exposure to sun
- Hormones (some women get cold sores before their periods)
- Emotional stress
Symptoms of Cold Sore
Some of the symptoms of cold sores include the following:
- Sores which are itching, burning, painful, and/or red; or fluid-filled blisters which are usually found on or close to the mouth or on the fingers
- Swollen and sensitive gums with a deep red
- Flu-like or fever-like symptoms as well as swollen neck lymph nodes, which are typically present in the first attack rather than in recurrent sores
- Itching and tingling in the location where a previous outbreak occurred
If at any point you begin to develop any of the following symptoms associated with cold sores, contact your doctor:
- Either chills or a high fever
- The sores become very painful (your doctor may able to prescribe prescription-strength relief)
- Your cold sores begin to spread (you may need to take antiviral medications)
How to Treat Cold Sore
1. Medical Treatment
- Antiviral creams: You can get prescription (Penciclovir) or over-the-counter (Aciclovir) antiviral creams. Although they won’t kill the virus, they prevent it from multiplying, preventing the blisters from worsening. They tend to reduce the severity and duration of cold sores if used immediately. The creams can also help prevent cold sores due to sunlight if you use them before sun exposure.
- Antiviral tablets: You can get Aciclovir in tablet form as well as other antiviral oral tablets. These are usually only recommended for severe cold sore infections in people who are immunocompromised, or in newborn babies. These are typically used to stop the virus from multiplying so the cold sores don’t get too severe.
- Laser treatment: For some people, narrow-band light (a laser treatment sometimes known as photodynamic therapy) helps with cold sores. It involves using a machine referred to as the Avert Electronic Cold Sore Machine, which delivers a narrow-band of light.
2. Home Remedies
If you prefer to try non-medicinal remedies, some home treatments will sometimes be effective against cold sores.
- Try applying aloe vera on the affected area. The aloe will relieve pain as well as speed up the healing process, making it incredibly useful.
- Try chilling the affected area using a cold compress or ice cubes. This will reduce swelling, redness and symptoms related to cold soresat the same time. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t necessarily make you heal faster, but it will improve symptoms.
- Applying Vaseline can also reduce the redness. Like ice cubes, this will not make the cold sores heal more quickly, but it can relieve pain and itchiness, doing wonders in terms of helping with symptoms.
- Petroleum jelly is another useful item that you probably already have at home. Unlike the other home treatments, it will actually speed up the healing process and even help protect you from a bacterial infection.
- Take a Q-tip and wet the affected area using it. After this, dip your Q-tip in baking soda or salt before dabbing it onto your sore. Let it stay there for a few minutes so it will absorb and then drain the fluid. After that, rinse off the baking soda or salt. You may need to repeat the process a few times and keep in mind that it may sting.
How to Prevent Cold Sore
If you show cold sores, then you are responsible for taking preventative measures so they do not spread to other people or even other areas of your body. Follow these recommendations to reduce the risk of spreading the cold sores:
- Do your best not to touch your cold sores. Anytime that you accidentally touch them, you need to immediately wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly. Those who wear contacts should be sure to thoroughly wash their hands before touching them.
- Do not have oral sex or kiss anyone before the cold sores completely heal.
- Do not share any object that may have been exposed to your cold sore, including cutlery, face towels, razors, lip gloss, and lipstick.
- Dry your mouth with tissues after you wash or brush your teeth and promptly throw these out.
In some cases, you can avoid certain cold sore triggers. Use sunscreen for your lips if you are out in the sun. If you are prone to cold sores when tired, be sure to rest frequently. It also helps to improve your immune system by not smoking or drinking alcohol and being sure to make healthy diet choices.