A cold sore is a blister that forms on the lips or around the mouth. It manifests as a spot that is itchy, tingly, or uncomfortable, and it is visible after 6-48 hours after one is infected. The blisters swell and contain a clear fluid which leaks when the blisters break open. The area around the blisters is usually swollen, red, and sore. The virus that causes cold sores (Herpes simplex virus) enters the body through skin breakages or through the mouth.
The following are some of the ways to prevent cold sore outbreaks:
- Do not share utensils, clothing, and bedding with a person with cold sores. Also, avoid preparing food or looking after children when you have the infection.
- Avoid kissing a person with cold sores as the virus can be transmitted through the mouth and also when you come in contact with the affected area.
- When out in the sun, use lip balm to protect your lips and sunscreen for your face as excessive exposure to the sun can trigger cold sores.
- If infected with cold sores, avoid touching the sores and wash your hands regularly to avoid infecting other people or transferring the virus to other parts of your body, such as the genital area or the eyes. Infection in the eyes can lead to a nasty condition called oracular herpes.
- If you have had cold sores in the past, find out what triggers them and avoid the triggers, examples include the flu, stress, and colds.
- If you often have cold sores, talk to your doctor, who may prescribe antiviral medication to prevent their outbreak.
Cold Sore Treatment
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Once you get the virus, it stays in your nervous system for life, which puts you at risk of regular breakouts. As there is no cure, cold sore treatment typically involves reducing the severity and number of outbreaks. Normally, they heal on their own within 7-10 days, but you can minimize their effects through medication. Antiviral medication shortens the healing period by a day or two, but you need to apply them at the first sign of the sores, such as a tingling sensation or burning of the lips. Some of the prescription antiviral medications you can use include valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir).
You don’t need to rely solely on antiviral creams, however. Their effectiveness is reduced because they need to be applied at least five days a day. If you regularly suffer from cold sores, your doctor may prescribe acyclovir or valacyclovir in pill form, to be taken daily – studies have shown this treatment can reduce the occurrence of cold sores. If the sun or wind is a trigger for you, try to avoid them as much as possible, but if you have to be in the sun, wear lip balm. Lastly, although there is currently only anecdotal evidence to support this, taking amino acid lysine as a supplement is said to prevent cold sores.
Finally, the herpes simplex virus thrives when your immune system is low. Therefore, make sure that you have a robust immune system to avoid the development of cold sores. Have a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, mostly those that are rich in vitamin C. Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi are also useful in boosting the immune system.
Also, dealing with and managing stressful situations is important as stress is the leading cause of cold sore outbreaks. One way to relieve stress is by practicing yoga or taking adaptogenic supplements that will help with anxiety. If you have a cold sore, you can use an ice pack on the affected area as it reduces blood flow into the sore and also relieves pain.