Cold sores, also known as fever blisters or oral herpes are infectious sores or blisters that commonly appear on the lips, and sometimes inside the mouth, on the cheeks, nose or eye lids. They are painful and unsightly, and people suffering from them are often self-conscious and frustrated. Cold sores are not dangerous but they cannot be ignored.
Cold sores first appear as blisters filled with fluid. After some time, the blisters, which may be small and clustered together like grapes, burst and the fluid drains out. Before the blister appears, there is usually a tingling or burning sensation on the lips.
Causes of cold sores
Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1. When this virus first comes in contact with the body, it causes symptoms that include one or more cold sores, fatigue, low grade fever, swollen lymph nodes and similar.
After the first outbreak is healed, the virus dwells in the nerve endings at the spot where it first appeared, and it re-activates itself due to certain triggering factors. This is why some people frequently suffer from cold sores and others never have them.
Factors that may trigger the outbreak of cold sores include stress, injury, damage to the skin, menstrual cycle, exposure to UV rays, tooth extraction, common cold, flu and digestive problems. A body with a weak or compromised immune system is more likely to have cold sore outbreaks.
There is no definitive cure for HSV-1 as of yet. This means that the virus cannot be eliminated from the body with the use of medications. Still, the sores can be treated at home, using natural or over-the-counter remedies which aim to reduce the time required for healing and to relieve the unpleasant symptoms.
Antiviral ointments can be used against cold sores as long as they are applied as soon as the tell-tale signs, like tingling, appear. If they are applied after the blister is already formed, most likely they will fail to be effective.
Ointments containing zinc can be used to drain and dry the cold sore and speed up the healing. Olive oil, baking soda, table salt, aloe vera and even garlic are home remedies that seem to work well for some people. Propolis gel is also found to be beneficial.
Cold sores should never be touched, scratched or picked at.
In order to prevent the outbreak of cold sores it is recommended to eat healthy and try to maintain a strong immune system. The lips should be protected from harmful factors such as extreme cold or heat, wind, UV rays and similar. Regular use of chap sticks and lip balms will keep the lips moisturized and healthy and thus less prone to damage.
It is important to wash the hands frequently and to avoid touching the lips and the face with dirty hands. Toothbrushes should be replaced every three months, and the one used during a cold sore outbreak should be thrown away and replaced with a new one.