What are Cold Sores?
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Sores are nothing but patches of broken ulcer-like skin. Cold sores in specific are blisters which are filled with fluid. These cold sores are also called fever blisters and are most painful. You will commonly find these cold sores in and around the lip area and mouth and to a lesser extent on the nose portion of the face.
Cold sores are filled with fluid and when they break open for some reason the fluid comes out and dries off within few days. The fluid is very active and contagious; however, it becomes less contagious as it begins to dry off. The breaking out of the fluid causes the spread of cold sores to other parts of the body as well. The normal healing time for cold sores without any medication is about 10-12 days.
Cold sores are caused by a virus which is known as Herpes simplex virus (HSV) which is of two types; type 1 and type 2. Usually, the HSV 1 is responsible for causing cold sores. Now we know that these sores are filled with fluid and when the sore breaks open the fluid causes the spread of fever blisters. When a healthy person comes in contact with this fluid, because of reasons like touching, kissing, contact with infected saliva etc. the virus transmission and spread of cold sores occur.
When a person comes in contact with the HSV it is very difficult to get rid of this organism. Even after the blisters have healed the virus stays in the body in a dormant form. This is the reason for recurrence of cold sores. However, it is not always necessary that the presence of HSV in the body will show symptoms. Some people do not get cold sores at all and the virus remains in their bodies in a dormant mode or sleep mode throughout life.
How Will I Confirm Whether I Have Cold Sores? What Are The Peculiarities?
The most common signs and symptoms are discussed below.
- Prodrome (pre-symptoms) – Sometimes you will observe a set of symptoms occurring before the development of cold sores. These symptoms are burning or a tingling kind of sensation a couple of days before the formation of the cold sores.
- Redness around the cold sore
- Fluid-filled sores
- Mild to moderate levels of pain in the sore
- Swollen glands in the neck region or some other body parts
- At times you will observe that 2-3 sores join together to form one big cold sore which becomes very painful.
One peculiarity of cold sore blisters is that they break open to release fluid and this fluid then dries and scabs off within 1-2 days.
How Are Cold Sores Different From Other Types of Sores, Say Canker Sores?
Other types of sores for e.g. canker sores which may look similar to cold sores are not contagious. This is one major differentiating point between cold sores and another type of sores. In addition to this, other sores are not caused by a virus. The main reason for the development of other sores (for e.g. canker sores are stress and injury of oral tissue etc.) whereas cold sores are caused by HSV as discussed before. So even if the appearance of different types of sores can be similar, they are not the same.
Your doctor can diagnose cold sores and differentiate them from other types of sores with the aid of some basic physical testing and some questions. In practice, no diagnostic test is utilized as such. However, if required, in order to confirm the existence of a cold sore your doctor can send blister sample for testing in a laboratory as a confirmatory test.
If the immune system which is nothing but your body’s defense system is weakened, the risk or chances of getting cold sores increases. Generally, people suffering from HIV/AIDS, patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy, patients who recently underwent organ transplantation etc. are at higher risk of getting infected by HSV and getting cold sores.
Usually the virus causing cold sores does not cause much harm; however, if the number starts increasing or due to some other reasons the virus starts to spread in other body parts as well. It can also result in certain complications like the spread of infection to the limbs, eye infections in case of spread to the eye resulting in vision problem or blindness, skin infections like eczema and even it can affect the spinal cord and brain resulting in serious health disorders.
How Can I Get Rid of Cold Sores?
In a large number of cases, the cold sores heal on their own in about 2-4 weeks. However for a better and quick healing following are the treatment options. We will also discuss some natural home remedies for a quick speedy recovery from cold sores.
- Anti-Viral Drugs:
Antiviral drugs are medicines that kill the viruses. Anti-viral drugs for cold sores are available in various dosage forms like tablets, topical creams, or even injections. Depending on the severity of the condition your doctor decides the route and dose of administration of the drug. The most commonly used anti-viral drugs are Acyclovir, Valaciclovir, Famciclovir, Penciclovir etc.
- Use of Ointments to Provide Relief:
There are some creams (for e.g. Doconasol) to protect and support the healing of the sores are available in the market. These creams mainly contain behenyl alcohol that acts as an emollient and nutritional supplement.
- Use Sunscreen Protection for The Lips:
Sunscreen is used mainly to protect the skin against harmful UV rays of the sun. When your lips are more prone to development of cold sores it becomes very important to protect them from the sun as sun rays tend to worsen the sores. Thus a good SPF 30 and above sunscreen must be used every time before you step out in sun.
- Cold Bath:
A simple technique of reducing swelling and inflammation is to apply ice/ cold bath on the affected area. This has proved to be symptomatically beneficial.
We know that the majority of the cold sores are mild-moderately painful. Therefore depending on the condition of the cold sore, the doctor will give you a suitable painkiller. Usually, locally acting drugs like lidocaine are being used. In addition to localized creams, even oral pain killer tablets can be taken.
- Alternative Treatment/ Herbal Remedies:
After discussing the pharmacological route, let us talk about natural healing.
- Lysine: Lysine, which is a protein (amino acid), is effective in the healing of cold sores. In addition, if you apply beeswax or petroleum jelly on the sore, the chances of its bursting are reduced. It is suggested that you should be free of stress to prevent a recurrence.
- Although Plenty: Although plenty of treatment options are available, let us discuss how to prevent the spread of infection. You must maintain cleanliness in and around your environment. Also, it is important to avoid sharing and touching other people as they might also get affected the HSV. Do not share your stuff with other people, when infected. These basic steps will help in preventing the spread.
- Milk Greatly: Use of milk greatly helps in reducing the symptoms of cold sores; this means using a milk compress helps in speedy recovery.
- Do not touch or fiddle with the cold sore even though it is tempting; as it will spread the sores to other parts of the body as well.
- Vitamin C: Use supplements rich in Vitamin C (citrus fruits like lemon, oranges etc.) as they prove to be very effective on sores.
- There are citrus flavored lip balms available and these are beneficial for cold sores.
- Avoid eating sugary foods (chocolate) and gelatin.
Is It Necessary to See a Doctor? When Should I Go to A Doctor for My Cold Sores?
Usually, the cold sores heal on their own in about 10-12 days; but if you experience certain issues like the frequent appearance of the sores, painful sores, eye infection, skin infection etc. you must consult a doctor. Many people find the cold sores unattractive and therefore they go for treatment procedure in order to get rid of the sores.
Now that you are very well aware of cold sores, it is clear that the basic step towards recovery is maintaining cleanliness. This is why simple basic measures like frequent washing of hands, keeping surrounding clean by using a disinfectant etc. must be enforced.