What are cold sores?
Cold sores are small blisters that appear around the mouth and on the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually disappear in 7-10 days without treatment.
What causes cold sores?
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is what causes cold sores. It is contagious and easily passed between people through physical contact.
There are two strains of the cold sore virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Once you have the virus in your body, it stays inactive the majority of the time. Every so often the virus can be triggered by something. The exact trigger will depend on the individual, but it could be tiredness, sunlight, an injury, or a woman’s period.
Some people have cold sores frequently, which is to say they are affected 2-3 times a year, whereas others may only ever have one cold sore. Some people can carry the virus and never actually have a cold sore at all.
What are the symptoms of cold sores?
When you first become infected with the herpes simplex virus you may show no immediate symptoms. Often a cold sore outbreak will happen later.
The first signs of a cold sore is an itching or tingling feeling around the mouth. When the mouth sores appear, they are generally on the edge of your lower lip and are filled with fluid.
Cold sores usually heal without scarring.
How can you treat cold sores?
Cold sores usually clear up without treatment in 7-10 days. However antiviral creams, such as Aciclovir, are readily available and can speed up your healing time.
These creams are most effective when you feel the first signs of a cold sore, so when you get the tingling and burning sensations. After this point, these creams are less effective.
Another method of treatment is a patch containing hydrocolloid gel, which is placed over the cold sore whilst it heals.
What can you do to help prevent cold sores?
You can’t prevent an outbreak of cold sores just like you can’t prevent infection by the herpes simplex virus. The only thing you can do is take precautions to minimise the likelihood of the infection spreading.
You should avoid touching your cold sore unless you are applying cream to treat it, and you should wash your hands before and after applying the cream. You should also avoid sharing cutlery, make-up and any other items that might touch the affected area. You should avoid oral sex and kissing.
It’s also best not to get too close to other people and be particularly careful when you are around newborn babies, pregnant women and anyone with a weak immune system.