If you have tiny blisters around your mouth or on your lips, then the chances are you have cold sores. This is a common ailment, and according to the World Health Organisation, at least two-thirds of the world’s populations under the age of 50 are affected. This post will dig deeper into the topic and also give you an insight into the best cold sore treatment.
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores can be described as small, painful, fluid-filled blisters that appear around the mouth, chin, or cheeks, and less frequently around the nose, inside the nostrils, or on the gums. The most common virus that causes cold sores is herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1), although the HSV-2 can also cause the infection occasionally.
How Are Cold Sores Spread?
Cold sores are most contagious when they rupture. Therefore, it is possible to pass on the cold sore to your baby at birth. This happens typically through vertical transmission. In this case, the virus is passed on if the mother has genital herpes and it’s spread through the birth canal. The virus can also be spread to the infant through the placenta. Horizontal transmission may also happen when the mother gets into contact with the baby after birth.
In adults, the herpes simplex virus can be passed on from person to person when the fluid seeps out of the sores. They are also contagious from the time a person starts to feel the cold sore symptoms until they are completely healed and gone. The fluid from a cold sore can be spread to another person by sharing a razor, utensils, or through kissing. The virus can also spread to other parts of the body through infected fluid and saliva. This is why it’s important that you avoid sharing food and drinks or kissing when you have a cold sore. You should also not touch the sores; wash your hands immediately if you do so to avoid passing on the infection to the next person.
Symptoms of Cold Sores
The symptoms of cold sores vary, with some people even carrying the virus but never having an outbreak. Those who do suffer an outbreak typically go through several stages of symptoms. The first stage is a tingling sensation in the affected area. In this case, you will feel a burning, tingling, or itching sensation around your lips, which usually lasts a day or so. A small, hard, and painful spot will then appear.
The second stage of symptoms is blisters. Small blisters frequently break out along the border of your lips where they meet the skin of the face. Blisters can also occur around the cheeks or the nose area.
Oozing and crusting is the last stage of symptoms. The small blisters that had emerged will soon burst and leave shallow open sores. This is where the fluid oozes from and crusts over.
The signs and symptoms will also vary depending on whether the cold sore has recurred or if this is your first outbreak. If the cold sore reappears, it commonly does so at the same spot. However, it will be less severe than the first time. People experiencing first-time outbreaks will generally experience the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Painful eroded gums
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
Cold sores in children under five years show around the mouths. The lesions in children are customarily mistaken for canker sores. It is important to understand that canker sores are not caused by the herpes simplex virus and only involve the mucous membrane.
Cold Sore Treatment
Currently, there is no cure for HSV infection; therefore, the blisters and the symptoms mentioned above may return and last for over a week. However, antiviral medications can speed up the healing process of cold sores and reduce how often the infection returns.
Over-the-counter cold sore antiviral creams can shorten the duration of the infection. Antivirals are effective if applied immediately after symptoms begin, and continually reapplied five times a day for 4-5 days. Oral antiviral medications can shorten or stop the outbreak – this is the ideal cold sore treatment for a patient who experiences several outbreaks a year. In such a case, it is advisable to take the medications every day. You can make use of other home remedies such as peppermint/witch hazel oil, licorice root or powder, vitamin C, aloe Vera gel, and lemon lip balm.