Talking about cold sores may not be polite dinner conversation, but becoming educated about this condition is the most effective way to avoid it and to prevent it from spreading. Although there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores to develop, millions of Americans keep theirs under control with good oral hygiene and complete cold sore treatment information.
Also called fever blisters, cold sores are small fluid-filled sores that appear recurrently on the lips or surrounding skin. While they are extremely contagious, especially at the onset, each outbreak typically disappears within 7-10 days.
What Triggers an Outbreak?
The first thing most people want to know is how to get rid of cold sores. But it's important to first understand what triggers an outbreak. So before we go over cold sore treatment or cold sore remedies, let's start with the triggers first.
The herpes simplex virus remains in your body between occurrences, but you can help keep it under control by understanding what triggers an outbreak. Common triggers include:
Stress or extreme emotions
Cold, flu or other illness
Physical strain or fatigue
Prolonged exposure to sunlight
Chapped or cut lips
Many people have reported feeling a painful or tingling sensation on or around their lips just prior to an outbreak. The actual cold sores appear as small clusters of blisters, and may be surrounded by red or inflamed skin. It is normal for these sores to "weep" clear fluid in the first few days before eventually drying and forming a temporary scab.
How to Avoid Spreading Cold Sores
The fact that cold sores are so contagious means it's important to avoid skin to skin contact whenever blisters are present. In addition, care should be taken not to share towels, drinks, utensils or any item that is likely to touch your mouth or lips. Finally, keeping your hands clean and refraining from touching your face as much as possible can help prevent sores from being spread to other parts of your face or body.
Different From Canker Sores
Cold sores are sometimes confused with canker sores, but the two are actually quite different -- canker sores appear on the soft tissues inside your mouth rather than on the lips and face. They are usually caused by minor injuries, such as biting your cheek, and typically heal within one or two weeks. Most importantly, unlike cold sores, canker sores are not associated with the herpes virus and are therefore neither contagious nor permanent.
Cold Sore Treatment and Relief
Because the source of cold sores is a virus, there is no true cold sore remedy; you can't get rid of it forever by taking a pill or applying a cream. And because they clear up on their own, you don't usually need professional medical or dental care. However, many people do benefit from some sort of cold sore treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to shorten outbreaks by a few days. Most other cold sore "remedies" are designed to relieve pain rather than eliminate the blisters. Oftentimes, an over-the-counter pain reliever is just as effective as a prescribed cold sore remedy.
Other cold sore remedies to consider are ones used in natural, homeopathic or Eastern medicine. These types of cold sore remedies may help inhibit the herpes simplex virus. Some examples are lysine supplements (lysine is found in red meat, fish and eggs); lemon balm cream; reishi supplements (derived from the Ganoderma lucidum mushroom); and Resveratrol cream (derived from grapes). Before trying any type of natural cold sore remedy, be sure to discuss it with your physician or dentist.