Cold Sores: The Basics

Beauty/Skincare, Cold/Flu, Daily Health Solutions, Healthy Living
on August 13, 2011
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Painful and unsightly cold sores can be an uncomfortable nuisance, especially during inclement weather that already comes with so many other comfort challenges. Cold sores are characterized by the blisters or open sores that develop around the mouth area. This can be especially upsetting for people who have a highly visible job such as a teacher, customer service specialist or television personality.

Causes. Cold sores are the result of the herpes simplex 1 virus. Just like other strains of the herpes virus, cold sores are incurable. On occasion, the herpes simplex 2 virus may cause sores on the face, though this strain is generally more closely associated with genital herpes. The virus can be introduced by direct contact with the sore, or by sharing eating utensils or lip products. It’s not clear exactly what causes a recurrence of a cold sore, though sun exposure, stress, fever and menstruation seem to be among the triggers.

Location. In most cases, cold sores will appear around the mouth, though on occasion they are also seen in other areas, including inside the nose and mouth. While cold sores and genital herpes are caused by different strains of the virus, the sores can be spread to other parts of the body in some cases. Eye infection is possible and is potentially very serious, as it can lead to blindness.

Management. Luckily, the only real danger with cold sores is secondary infection, and this is rare except in immune deficient individuals and occasionally infants. However, cold sores can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Though you can’t cure or prevent cold sores, you can take steps to reduce their frequency and to limit the duration of an occurrence.” Numbing topical treatments such as Lidocaine and benzocaine may be helpful, as well as alternating cold and heat and using over-the-counter pain medications. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that may shorten the duration of the cold sore.