Before you go any further, you should know there is no miracle cure for cold sores, and they have nothing to do with having a cold. If you have already contracted the virus that causes them, then you have joined the ranks of billions of other human beings on this planet with the virus. It is a very common problem; estimates vary from a sixty to ninety percent infection rate. Many people don’t even know that they have the virus and carry it their whole lives without an outbreak. Many people (maybe you?) have outbreaks that last a few weeks on a semi-regular basis.
Besides the aesthetic concern of having an obvious, ugly, stigmatizing sore on your lips, there are other reasons to be concerned about cold sores. They can sometimes lead to fevers or secondary bacterial infections. They are also highly contagious, so you need to be cautious about your hygiene practices while you are openly shedding viruses. Some of us are still in that ten to forty percent who have yet to become infected (that we know of), and speaking for myself, I’d like to keep it that way.
Cold Sore Causes
Fever blisters or cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) 1; it is similar to, but not the same as, HSV 2, which causes genital herpes. However, both are highly contagious, and both can be transmitted by sexual contact. Most people connect the sores with kissing or oral sex, but it could also be passed along in birth or by sharing a soda.
Cold Sore Treatments
Treat your cold sores early. If this is your first outbreak, it is likely that you misinterpreted the onset of the cold sore as something else, like a pimple, a regular blister, dried lips, or a canker sore. Having gone through it once, can you think of a distinctive sensation with which to associate the rise of the blisters? Many people describe it as a tingling, itchy spot, coinciding with swelling under the skin. If you feel something like that, you should consider treating the virus now. Studies have shown that early treatment can shorten the healing time of a cold sore.
Try to not touch the infected area. There are so many reasons why you absolutely should not pick at or otherwise try to pop or scratch the fever blisters. First of all, your hands and the area around the sore are probably filthy, and you risk contaminating the wound with bacteria. Also, you can burst capillaries or damage skin around the area, which will prolong the healing process. Third, every time you touch your cold sore, especially when it is in the open and weeping state, you risk spreading your horrible viral infection to some unsuspecting passerby.
Keep the sore clean and dry. If your cold sore is weeping a lot, you are going to want to try to keep the area clean with plain soap and water. The stuff dripping out of your wound is full of the highly contagious virus, so if you are holding a tissue to the wound, dispose of it properly and wash your hands. When the sore begins to scab over, avoid messing with it too much—though cracking is common. To avoid cross contamination, throw away your toothbrush, ChapStick, and any other things that may have touched your lips.
Talk to your doctor about antiviral medicines. As mentioned above, there is no cure for the Herpes Simplex Virus, but there are a number of medications that can reduce the ability of the virus to reproduce. Acyclovir (Zovirax), Famciclovir (Famvir), and Valaciclovir (Valtrex) are a family of drugs that all inhibit the production of DNA polymerase in HPVviruses. They don’t have an immediate effect but can reduce healing time by a small percentage. If used early, Famvir (as a post exposure prophylactic) has had some positive results. Talk to your doctor about it.
Apply topical creams. There are a couple of cold sore creams that you should look into. Some, such as the antiviral medications Docosanol (Abreva), Famvir, Valtrex, or Acyclovir mixed with hydrocortisone (Xerese), require a prescription from your doctor. These drugs have been shown to help heal the lesions associated with cold sores. If applied early, over-the-counter topical creams containing zinc oxide have been shown to lessen severity of outbreaks, as have Neosporin and ordinary petroleum jelly. If the cold sore is very painful, apply an anesthetic ointment like Ambesol. Consult with your doctor to find the best solution for your situation.
Prevent Cold Sore Outbreaks
Although the herpes virus infecting the nerves in your skin will never go away, there are things you can do to avoid outbreaks. You need to be aware of the things that trigger the virus’s ability to make a comeback. It is different for everyone, but some common triggers include: stress, sun exposure, hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy), dental surgery, skin trauma in the area, and diet choices.
Obviously you can’t always avoid these things completely, but being aware of the connection might persuade you to make some different choices that lead to a less stressful life. It can also allow you to be one step ahead of the cold sore by anticipating its arrival and treating it early. Finally, if you’ve experienced a cold sore outbreak, you know how unpleasant it can be. You need to be honest with your sexual partners (and anyone with whom you swap spit) about your cold sore issue. It’s not something you want to pass on.