What exactly is a cold sore?
A cold sore is a common ailment. They are commonly called fever blisters, or they are known medically as herpes labialis.
A cold sore consists of small blisters that form close to the mouth and on the lips. These blisters cause the skin close to them to become red, swollen and sore.
Many times, the blisters will burst open and a clear fluid may come out of them. Afterword, they will scab over and usually heal, on their own, in about two weeks.
What are symptoms of a cold sore?
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The symptoms of cold sores differ from person to person.
Common symptoms include pain around the mouth and parts of the lips, a sore throat, swollen glands in the neck or a high fever.
Young children may drool slightly before getting a cold sore. Someone who has had one before may just be able to “feel” a new cold sore coming.
What causes a cold sore?
The herpes simplex virus is usually the culprit of these painful sores. There are two types of the herpes simplex virus. These are known simply as herpes simplex virus one and herpes simplex virus two. Each of these can cause cold sores, although the sores are usually caused by HSV-1.
The virus will often sneak its way into the body via a break in the skin close to the mouth. It can spread through infected bodily fluids when people do things like kiss or share a razor or eating utensil.
Once a person has an episode of herpes, the virus stays within the body. It lies dormant and can emerge at any time at or near the original site. Reemergence of the virus can be triggered by menstruation, fever, stress, fatigue, or sun exposure.
What are risk factors of getting a cold sore?
The biggest risk factor of getting a cold sore is a previous experience with a cold sore. Once a person has the herpes simplex virus, it never leaves the body and that person will most likely get other cold sores throughout his or her life, especially during times of stress.
A risk factor of getting a cold sore for the first time is exposure to someone with a cold sore. It can be spread easily through contaminated objects.
Age is another risk factor. Infants and young children have a high chance of getting cold sores.
Immunocompromised people, such as those with AIDS or people on chemotherapy are also at high risk for cold sores. Cold sores may spread to large parts of the lower face or even invade organs.
What are some good ways to prevent cold sores?
Once a person has contracted the herpes simplex virus, the best way to prevent a cold sore is by boosting the immune system. If the virus hasn’t been contracted, cold sores can be prevented by avoiding the herpes simplex virus itself. To do so, stay away from body fluids of an infected person, and don’t share eating utensils, drinking cups, or similar items with a person who has a cold sore.
How is a cold sore diagnosed?
Most of the time a doctor can diagnose a cold sore simply by looking at it and asking a few questions. Cold sores can sometimes be mistaken for other things such as abrasions, razor burns, pimples, angular stomatitis, and canker sores. In these cases where the diagnosis is not obvious, the doctor may order tests to confirm what is really going on.
One test a doctor can do is to take a swab of the sore and incubate it to see if the virus can be detected. The doctor will use a swab to get a sample of the infected area. The swab must be taken in the first 48 hours of the outbreak and before the blister has crusted over.
The sample will be incubated for a minimum of three to five days and may confirm the presence and type of herpes simplex virus. However, a negative viral culture does not mean that the patient is actually negative for the virus. If the swab is taken after the sore has started to heal, the virus may not show up in lab results.
Blood tests can also be done to correctly diagnose cold sores and to rule out other problems such as canker sores, impetigo, syphilis, chickenpox, or lip cancer.
What are complications the go along with cold sores?
When a cold sore is present, the herpes simplex virus can spread to another part of the infected person’s body and cause another cold sore. This is known as autoinoculation. The most serious type of autoinoculation is known as ocular herpes. It is characterized by lesions and severe pain around the eye. It can lead to serious eye damage or blindness.
The herpes simplex virus can rarely cause encephalitis in the brain. This infection requires antiviral medications to be given intravenously and hospitalization.
Rarely, people that experience a cold sore outbreak can also experience erythema nodosum. This is a nonspecific skin reaction that presents itself as redness and painful skin lumps that are usually on the front side of the legs. This condition usually resolves on its own in three to six weeks.
How are cold sores treated?
If left alone, a cold sore will usually heal on its own in a few days. However, they can cause pain and embarrassment. If desired, there are different ways to treat cold sores and help them heal faster.
What are home remedies for cold sores?
When an outbreak occurs, it is important for the person to wash his or her hands frequently to reduce the spread of the virus to various other body parts or to other people.
One home remedy for a cold sore is covering the sore with petroleum jelly or with a local anesthetic ointment containing benzocaine to alive the pain. However, covering the sore with makeup will most likely make the sore worse.
Getting a new toothbrush after the outbreak has started and after the cold sore is gone is a good way to stop the spread of the virus. Toothbrushes can harbor the virus and spread them to other areas of the mouth.
Put some kind of sun protection on the lips before going outside. Use something that contains at least 15 SPF or higher.
Eat licorice. Studies have shown that glycyrrhizic acid, which is found in licorice, can help to stop cold sores. Licorice powder is also available, but be careful. There can be negative side effects if too much is used.
Use an ice pack on the sore when it first arrives.
Getting the sore cold may provide relief from the pain and it also cuts down the time that a cold sore will be there. Popsicles work too, but don’t eat juice bars. The acid in juice bars may irritate the sore.
Soak a cotton ball in milk and apply it to the sore. This will work to relieve the pain. It can also work to speed the healing, especially if put on the lip when you feel a cold sore coming.
What are herbal remedies for cold sores?
Some herbs that are helpful in healing cold sores are lemon balm and Saint John’s wort.
Either of these should be dabbed on to the lip or mouth as soon as a cold sore is noticed. They should be use several times a day.
Oregon grape is another herb that works on cold sores because it is an antiviral herb. Other herbs to consider using are ones that will boost the immune system such as Echinacea. One teaspoon of strong Echinacea root decoration can be swished around in the mouth for several minutes then swallowed three times per day.
Chamomile is another thing that can be used. It contains a substance called bisabolol that helps heal sores of the mucous membranes. Herbs can cause side effects, and can interfere with other medications being taken. Many herbs should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women. Talk to a doctor before starting any herbal routine. Most of these herbs are available as supplements at local drug stores or online for a pretty decent price.
What are the medicinal remedies for cold sores?
There are many prescription and non-prescription creams, tablets, liquid drops, lip balms, and gels that claim to help cold sores.
Some of them include:
Abreva Abreva is a non-prescription cold sore medicine approved by the FDA to shorten healing time of cold sores. It is placed directly on the cold sore. It has side effects such as headaches, painful menstrual periods, and a stuffy or runny nose. It sells from $12 to $20 dollars for a .7 oz container.
Anbesol Cold sore Therapy Ointment with Vitamin E and Aloe. This provides maximum strength pain relief of cold sores and moisturizes while it treats and protects. This treatment can cause stinging, severe allergic reactions, edema, cardiovascular problems, dermatitis, and methemoglobinemia. It sells for about $7 for a .33 oz container.
Quantum Super Lysine plus Cold Sore Cream This is to be applied at the first sign of cold sores. It is said to be able to block the outbreak or speed up the healing time. It sells for $11 for a .75 oz bottle.
Cold Sore Rescue Cold Sore Rescue is an all natural gel that combines anti-viral and anti-inflammatory herbs to promote quick healing of cold sores. It sells for $9.95 for a .27 oz tube.
Orajel Medicated Cold Sore Swabs These are easy to apply swabs that go directly onto the cold sore. These are about $4.00 per box.
Herpetrol Cold Sore Relief Gel This gel works to relieve the pain that accompanies cold sores. It does not heal the cold sore any faster than normal. It sells for $6-$8 dollars for a .25 oz package.
Zilactin Cold Sore Gel This gel creates a temporary film around the sore that will reduce irritation and temporarily relieves pain from cold sores. It sells for about $7 for a .25 oz package.
These are just a few of the commercially available products that claim to help cold sores heal or to relieve the pain of cold sores. There are only two FDA approved prescription medications. They are Denavir cream 1% and Zovirax cream 5%.
Denavir cream works by interfering with the growth of the herpes virus. It can reduce the pain of the cold sore and speed up the healing. It is a cream that is applied directly to the sore. Side effects are rare, but may include headaches, hives, itching, numbing of the skin, pain, rash, skin discoloration, swelling in the mouth and throat, taste or smell alteration, tingling, or worsened condition.
Zovirax cream is used in the same way as Denavir cream. Its side effects include allergic reactions, burning, dry or cracked lips, dry or flaky skin, eczema, hives, inflammation, itchy spots, or stinging. Prescription medications are generally more expensive than non-prescription, depending on the type of insurance you have.
If you don’t have insurance, or if you insurance plan doesn’t cover prescriptions, use natural or over the counter remedies or allow the cold sore to heal on its own.