Cold sores are a common health condition which can be painful but are generally more often annoying and embarrassing for those who get them. They are not life threatening but are certainly treatable and manageable. Often the cold sores appear at the worst times – for instance when you have a special event planned and cold sores are the last thing that you want to worry about.
We are all exposed to the cold sores virus but not all of us will experience an outbreak of cold sores. Those who do, usually get repeated attacks. Our first exposure to the virus is most likely in childhood. It tends to stay in our bodies, doing nothing until later in life when certain things ‘trigger’ it to become active and cause cold sores to appear.
The virus responsible is called herpes simplex type 1, which can cause both facial and genital herpes. It has nothing to do with the common cold virus but having a cold or the flu, or being run down from stress or some other illness, can provide the perfect ‘trigger’ for cold sores to develop. Sunburn is another common ‘trigger’.
Cold sores usually start out with a tingling, burning or itchy feeling on the skin where the sores eventually will appear – usually around the mouth or nose. A red swollen patch then develops over the next 24 hours which is often very painful, and turns into a blister or a group of blisters. These crust over and dry-up after about a week, with the sores eventually healing completely and disappearing 10-14 days after the first tingle. The virus remains in your body until something like stress, an infection, or the common cold ‘triggers’ it again and more cold sores develop – often in the same place as before.
Cold sores are transferred easily from person to person and can be particularly dangerous for babies, or for people taking medicines that affect their immune systems. Kissing is a common way of spreading the virus. Parents who have cold sores should be careful not to kiss children until the sores have healed as they risk passing them the virus for life. Don’t share your eating and drinking utensils, or face cloths and towels, because you could pass-on the virus that way.
As further advice, people should wash their hands thoroughly after they have bathed and treated cold sores, or if they accidentally touch the sores. It is extremely important not to touch or rub your eyes without washing your hands first. If your eyes become red, watery and sensitive to light, see your doctor straight away as the virus could have passed to your eyes. This can be very serious. Cold sores also can be spread to the genitals so it is important to take care with genital hygiene.
You cannot be cured of the cold sore virus, but medicines to relieve symptoms of the actual sores are available from your pharmacy. Some can speed-up the healing time. Other medicines can stop the sores even from appearing, but usually only if used early-enough in the cycle. The key is getting help and using antiviral medicines straight away – during the early ‘tingling’ stage. For more information on cold sores and the different medicines available, talk to the team at Mangawhai Pharmacy and pick up your free copy of the Cold Sores or Herpes Simplex fact card.