What Do Cold Sores Look Like?
Cold Sore in the Lip
Cold Sores in Babies
Cold Sore with Pus
Cold Sore Blisters
Cold Sore Symptoms
Cold Sore vs. Canker Sore
Cold sores, which are commonly known as fever blisters, are typically small sores or blisters that occur either on the face or inside the mouth. They usually cause pain in the form of a burning or itching sensation before they burst. After bursting, they tend to crust over. The most common spots for cold sores are the lips, chin, cheeks, the inner part of the nostrils, gums, or, sometimes, on the roof of the mouth (the palate).
The causes for cold sores are the herpes simplex viruses.
Herpes simplex type 1, or HSV-1, viruses are the most common cause of sores around the mouth. Although much less common, the cold sores may also be caused by HSV-2 (herpes simplex type 2), which may result from engaging in oral sex with an individual who has genital herpes.
Cold sores are very different than canker sores. However, people sometimes mistakenly associate one with the other. A canker sore is a small ulcer in the lining of the mouth that is frequently painful. They are also known as aphthous ulcers, which occur in the soft tissue of the mouth, where cold sores rarely appear, or not at all.
Cold sores are surprisingly quite common. Although there isn’t exactly a cure or prevention for people infected with them, multiple steps can be taken to drastically reduce their frequency and duration.
The herpes simplex virus is extremely contagious; it is easily transmitted from one person to another as a result of close contact. It is a communicable virus. When it enters a human, it remains dormant for the majority of time. At some point, the virus is activated due to certain triggers, which result in a cold sore outbreak. The triggers may vary according to the individual. One person may have just one outbreak without any recurrence, whereas others may have two or three outbreaks year after year. There are cases where some people who carry the virus never have an outbreak, since it remains dormant or inactive all the time.
Many people infected with the herpes simplex virus have no symptoms, and, due to the nature of the disease, they do not know they are infected until they have an outbreak of cold sores caused by their triggers. If there are symptoms due to a primary infection, they are likely to be severe.
In the majority of cases, the signs or symptoms are not easily detected. When they do occur in children, they are quite serious. Some of the symptoms include:
- Mouth or tongue lesions or blisters within the mouth
- Mouth ulcers
- Mouth or tongue pain
- Swelling of the lips
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands
- Elevated body temperature
- Dehydration due to lack of water in the body, which may also lead to nausea
HSV-1 is typically passed on in early childhood when a child is kissed by an individual with a cold sore. It can also be passed on by sharing eating utensils or bathroom utilities, such as towels or razors. The virus travels to the nerves and stays there in a dormant state until some activity triggers it at a later stage.
The following triggers are known to potentially activate the virus:
- Mental stress or any kind of deep sadness
- Any kind of injury to the affected area
- Intense sunlight
It takes one to two weeks for cold sores to clear up without any kind of treatment. A couple of over-the-counter ointments and antiviral medications can shorten the duration of the outbreak and help the individual combat the discomfort and pain.
- Over-the-counter cold sore antiviral creams can reduce the duration of the infection if used properly. Most creams contain either acyclovir or penciclovir, which are only effective if applied as soon as symptoms appear, i.e., when a tingling sensation occurs, alerting the individual that a cold sore is about to come. The cream needs to be applied and used up to five times daily for about four to five days for best effect. These creams cannot prevent future occurrences, as they do not get rid of the virus completely.
- For individuals with a weak immune system, there are risks of complications for patients that are undergoing chemotherapy or those with HIV. The infection is known to spread to other parts of the body, including the eyes, as well as an added risk of swelling in the brain, for which patients may be prescribed antiviral tablets or asked to consult a specialist. The treatment depends on the severity of the overall symptoms and the type of illness the individual has.
- Some other treatments for cold sores are creams that do not contain antivirals and can be bought without a prescription. They may help alleviate some of the irritation to an extent. In no way do they speed up the healing process, but may help if the cold sores are dry, itchy, or painful. These creams are to be dabbed straight onto the sores and not rubbed in. Before applying, make sure your hands are washed thoroughly with warm water and soap. The cream is to be used only by one person.
- Painkillers such as ibuprofen or Tylenol can reduce the overall pain. If the individual is a young child, ask the pharmacist for the medications in liquid form. If the patient has asthma or stomach ulcers, they should not take ibuprofen.
In order to prevent any further outbreak, when sores are present:
- Avoid kissing other people.
- Avoid skin contact with other people and sharing personal things, from towels, lipstick, and lip balm, to cutlery.
- Always follow good hand hygiene.
- Do not touch the sore. If you do, always wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately.
There are certain known triggers which can bring on an outbreak, such as mental stress, colds or the flu, lack of sleep and overall sleep deprivation, or just too much sun. If you follow a healthy diet, which includes a good amount of fruits and vegetables, the chances of you catching a cold or flu may be significantly reduced.
Natural Remedies for Cold Sores on the Lips
There are certain natural remedies found to be particularly helpful when it comes to healing cold sores on the lips. Some of the tried and tested remedies include:
- Lemon balm: Lemon balm contains certain healing properties that can help reduce the redness, irritation, and swelling that often come with the blisters. This natural remedy is also helpful in treating future eruptions of lip sores.
- Ice: While ice is not a cure or a treatment, it does provide some amount of temporary relief from the symptoms associated with cold sores. Applying a cold ice pack on the sores eases the painful condition.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera gel is known for its soothing anti-inflammatory properties that also go a long way towards treating cold sores. For best results, use natural aloe vera gel directly from the plant.
- Sunscreen: Using a potent sunscreen can not only aid in treating cold sores on the lips, but also help prevent their recurrence in the future.