Cold Sore Treatments
Most people have had at least one cold sore - a reddish lesion that appear on or near the edge of the lips and often accompanies a cold, a feverish illness or during a period of increased stress. The herpes simplex virus that causes the sores can't be cured. However, with cold sore treatments and proper management, you can reduce the discomfort that typically occurs, as well as help the blisters resolve more quickly.
Sometimes called "fever blisters," cold sores are caused by a type of herpes virus called the herpes simplex virus. There are two types of this virus - HSV-1, which is the most common cause, and HSV-2, which is generally associated with genital herpes. Most people carry HSV-1 in their bodies due to exposure early in life - perhaps by drinking from a cup used by a person with the virus or being kissed by someone who carries HSV-1. However, only about a third of those people will go on to develop cold sores.
The sores derive their name because they often appear during illness when your immune system is busy fighting off pathogens. HSV-1 overwhelms the immune system temporarily causing blisters and sores.
Signs and Symptoms
Cold sores usually appear in three stages that have distinct symptoms and signs:
- Stage 1 - You may notice a tingling or itching sensation around your lips or an area of your lip for one or two days prior to any outward sign.
- Stage 2 - Blisters erupt along the border of the lip and, in some cases, they may also appear near the nose or cheeks in the area of the lips.
- Stage 3 - Blisters burst and the sore begins to ooze and crust over.
Initial outbreaks can be more severe and may be accompanied by fever, headache, sore throat and swollen lymph nodes, as well as substantial pain in the area of the sore.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose a cold sore through an exam and your medical history. Where the diagnosis is unclear, a fluid sample from the blister may be taken and examined in a laboratory.
There is no cure for HSV-1. Treatment is aimed at lessening the symptoms and decreasing the duration. Your doctor may prescribe a topical cream or an oral medication. Newer medications are designed to be taken at the first stage, before the blister begins.
Outcomes and Follow-up
Because cold sores can't be cured, it's important to avoid the situations that can cause them to develop. While it's not always possible to avoid becoming ill, if stress causes your cold sores to appear, learning strategies to manage stressful situations may help minimize your outbreaks.
Most importantly, see a doctor or dermatologist at the first sign of a cold sore so you can begin using medication to help lessen your symptoms. And remember, even when cold sores are not visible, you are still able to infect people through your saliva, so be sure to discuss "how to be extra careful and not to spread the virus" during your contact with others.