Cold sores can appear on different areas of the body but the most common are found on and around the lips. They are fluid filled blisters, can be painful and unsightly. They are caused by an infection of the Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus is usually contracted in childhood by kissing someone who has a cold sore. The virus enters the skin layers and travels up to the nerve roots where is becomes inactive. The virus can then become active in the future when it travels back down the nerve to cause the associated blister. These will eventually scab over and will naturally disappear after a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, due to their location on the lips the scabs tend to split and may bleed. This is very unsightly and noticeable to other people.
How are cold sores triggered?
There are a number of things that can trigger the virus. It is known that a weakened immune system can trigger them, for example when you have a bad cold or flu. Other triggers include stress, tiredness, menstruation, general low health, strong sunlight and cold wind.
How to prevent cold sores.
Don’t get infected in the first place. This may be difficult as you are likely to become infected as a child. But, if you are virus free, then do not kiss someone who has an obvious cold sore on the lips. Once the blister/scabs have gone then you are OK to kiss them, but until then it is safer to ‘air kiss’.
If you are already infected then avoid the triggers.
Keep healthy, eat well, exercise frequently, get a good nights sleep and avoid stress. If you have a strong healthy immune system then this should naturally keep the virus at bay. Use a lip balm with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) this will shield the lips from the damaging effects of the sun. These are all good precautions for everyone, not only cold sore sufferers. Also use a lip balm in winter to protect against the wind and prevent the lips getting chapped and wear a scarf around the face.
How to get rid of a cold sore.
What cold sore remedies are available, if all the above has failed and you get that tell-tale tingling sensation that you know will turn into a nasty blister?
There are two approaches: manage the symptoms and fight the virus. Firstly, the blister or scab can be covered with make-up. This doesn’t help it heal any quicker but you will feel a bit less self conscious. It is important to keep the blister and scab clean to avoid infection. Keeping it supple avoids cracking, which not only is unsightly but is also a route for a secondary infection. Remember to always wash you hands after touching a cold sore as they can spread through contact to others areas like the eyes, fingers and genitals.
To treat the virus there are creams that you can get on prescription and over the pharmacy counter such as aciclovir (acyclovir) cream (e.g. Zovirax cream). These are anti-viral and kill off the herpes simplex virus in the blister so speeding up the healing period.
There is also a new therapy device available that uses a specific frequency of light to prevent a cold sore appearing when the tingle is felt and vastly speeds up healing. This is called the Virulite Cold Sore Device. It is safe, easy to use, takes about 3 mins, fits in your handbag and has been scientifically proven to work.