Cold sores are never welcome – they’re painful, they can look unsightly and they seem to hand around forever.
Well, not any more!
We’ll get to the bottom of what a cold sore is, why they appear – and what you can do to make sure they disappear as quickly as possible.
What’s more, we’ll even give you some tips on how you can stop them popping up in the first place!
What is a cold sore?
Cold sores don’t generally have anything to do with cold temperatures or the kind of cold that gives you a runny nose. Instead, they’re caused by a virus that can live on your skin.
The virus is called ‘Herpes Simplex’ and a HUGE amount of people carry it. In fact, it’s likely that the majority of the world’s population have it – with medical estimates suggesting that about 2 out of every 3 people in the world under 50 carry it.
The virus is incurable – so for the moment at least the medical world doesn’t know how to get rid of it, but that’s not something to worry about, it’s almost entirely symptomless – and generally, the only symptoms that do occur are occasional cold sores.
That’s not to say cold sores aren’t a huge irritation – they really are, both physically and the knowing that you have one on your face.
How do I know if I’ve got a cold sore?
A cold sore generally starts as a collection of small fluid filled blisters around the lips – although they can actually appear anywhere on the face.
The blisters grow and spread – until they eventually burst. They can be quite painful – but especially painful when they’ve burst and leave a small open wound.
Soon after a cold sore as burst, the area becomes protected with a crust or scab until it’s healed. Again, the location of the scab makes it uncomfortable and likely to be knocked or irritated while eating, further adding to the discomfort.
Ordinarily, the full cold sore process – from the blisters appearing to the scab coming off and there being no sign of it – takes around 10-14 days – but it’s possible to speed that up significantly.
What makes a cold sore appear?
Sadly, there’s no rhyme or reason as to why cold sores appear. Some people say they’re more likely to appear on chapped lips, other people say they appear when you’re run down or suffering from fatigue (hence they’re often named ‘fever blisters’ – especially in the US).
While there’s likely to be some truth to these claims, no study has found a clear link between any set of circumstances and cold sores appearing.
Some things to avoid when you’ve got a cold sore
There are a few things you should avoid doing if you’ve got (or think you’re about to get) a cold sore. They include:
- Kissing anyone
Kissing someone when you have a cold sore is highly likely to result in the passing of the herpes-simplex virus to their skin. While there’s a chance they already have it, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Touching your cold sore
It’s hard not to poke and prod a cold sore – but by doing so you’re more likely to get it dirty or spread the virus. When any wound is dirty it’s less likely to heal quickly – or without leaving a mark. Try your best to keep your fingers away from it!
- Engaging in oral sex
The word ‘herpes’ is often used to describe a sexually transmitted infection – and while the cold sore herpes virus is slightly different to the one that’s considered an STI, both can live and spread easily across the genitals as well as the mouth. Wait until your mouth is totally healed to engage in oral sex – as even using condoms doesn’t guarantee the virus won’t spread.
- Eating foods that might irritate it
Although they can taste wonderful, many of the foods we eat are acidic or salty – and both of these things can irritate a cold sore. Try to avoid eating or drinking anything that hurts when it touches the cold sore, as this is likely to be disrupting the healing process.
- Kissing babies
If you’re likely to come into contact with a baby you should avoid any kisses if you think you’ve got or might be getting a cold sore. While herpes is mostly harmless to adults, it can be very dangerous to new-borns – so if there’s any chance you think your baby as been exposed to a cold sore, you should seek medical advice promptly.
What can you do to treat a current cold sore?
Now! The most important question – how on Earth do you get rid of an annoying cold sore quickly and effectively?!
Well, the key isn’t with one product – it’s with a strategic plan of attack!
When you feel that tingle that cold sore suffers know means there’s a cold sore breakout on its way then keeping some ice to hand is useful. Wrapped in a clean cloth and held against the cold sore area can help reduce inflammation.
While off the shelf medications do a fairly good job – talking to your pharmacist or doctor about something a little stronger can be useful too. They might be able to suggest or prescribe an anti-viral cream which you should then dab on with clean hands.
If the cold sore has emerged, using an astringent solution can be helpful too. An astringent helps to draw moisture out of the cold sore, helping it to dry up and heal much more quickly than if it’s just left alone. Your pharmacist will be able to recommend a product that will help – and you should make sure you apply it frequently – and with a clean cloth.
Doing these three things can often reduce the time a cold sore hangs around for significantly!
What can you do to stop a cold sore appearing?
As the old saying goes – prevention is better than the cure! Try to be aware of instances when you feel run down, fatigued or tired – your skin can suffer during these times so making sure you moisturise and drink plenty of water can prevent the dryness that’s often associated with cold sores around the mouth.
Keeping your lips moisturised is also important – so a lip balm that contains some SPF protection will be helpful too – but remember, don’t share that lip balm with anyone else!