Cold Sores: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

That annoying bump or blister on your lip can be a cold sore, otherwise known as a fever blister. They can interfere with your eating, displays of affection, and comfort. As you will see below, they could spell, in some cases, more ominous conditions. Here, we outline the causes, symptoms, treatment, and defenses against cold sores, to help you fight this virus.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Body fluid transfers and contact with infected skin transfer the herpes 1 simplex virus, the principal culprit of a cold sore. The virus is commonly transferred through kisses (even minor pecks), sharing food, paper towels, napkins, razors, or other utensils, as well as infected hands touching the mouth. As a result, a cold sore typically appears on the mouth.

The HSV-I can make its way to genital areas during oral sex as well. In turn, the HSV-2, which can also cause cold sores, can move to the mouth and create a cold sore.

What Triggers Cold Sores?

Roughly nine in every ten people carry the herpes virus. Depending on the person, it may remain dormant. That is, it may be weeks, months, years, or even permanently that you carry the virus without having a cold sore. Often, some condition or event awakens the virus to create the sore or show its symptoms. Some common triggers include:

  • Attacks on the Immune System. A cold sore takes advantage of weakened immune systems. Threats to your ability to ward off the Herpes virus come from stress, other infections, fevers, lack of rest, and lack of a proper, balanced diet containing vitamins.
  • Sunlight. With sunlight come the ultraviolet rays that can damage the skin on the lips.
  • Cold Weather. Cold weather generally means dry conditions and dry skin that can trigger or otherwise encourage development.
  • Hormones. Those at various stages of a menstrual cycle face increased susceptibility to fever blisters. Other times of hormone balance can include menopause or pregnancy.
  • Trauma in Mouth. Dental procedures inflict, relatively speaking, minor trauma. However, it may be enough to trigger sores in those already susceptible to them. Mouth trauma may also result from a burn or being hit by something or someone.

Cold Sores Symptoms

The symptoms of a cold sore reflect the “life cycle” of these fever blisters. In the beginning, you sense itching, burning, or tingling. In about a day or so, the blisters develop and you feel the pain or irritation. Subsequently, the cold sore releases fluid and, as the fluid dries, you’ll notice the crust. Other cold sore symptoms accompany the episodes. You may have a fever, swollen glands, a sore throat, or fatigue. If your gums become red, swollen or irritated, a cold sore may be in your near future.

Commonly, you may expect these symptoms to annoy and inconvenience you more than being signs of serious illnesses. However, don’t take cold sores lightly — especially if you experience fever chills. Fever may develop when your body is attempting to ward off an infection. Consider seeing a physician if you develop a fever.

Cold Sore Remedies

Cold sore remedies come in both the over-the-counter, prescription, and homemade variety. Without a prescription, you can get ibuprofen and acetaminophen to counteract the pain, sunscreen to prevent further generation of the sore, remedies that include benzyl alcohol to attack the virus, and aloe vera. The aloe vera also comes naturally if you grow or can find the plant.

aloe vera section

Home remedies include lemon balm and ice. The former proves effective against the swelling and redness, but may not alleviate pain or scabs very well. On the prescription route, you’ll find the cream Denavir that can hasten the healing process and shorten the pain. As oral medications, Valtrex and Acyclovir can reduce symptoms if you start the regimen within 24 to 48 hours after the cold sore onset.

Measures such as steroid-based ointments, dye-light therapy, vaccinations for smallpox, and vitamin-based therapies may actually aggravate the cold sore, says the University of Michigan University Health Service.

How Can You Prevent Cold Sores?

While there might not exist a fool-proof defense against cold sores, you can reduce the chance of having the herpes virus activate into a cold sore:

  • Balanced lifestyle. Regular exercise and sleep have many benefits, among them the reduction of stress that can trigger cold sores. Include in your diet especially those foods containing copious amounts of vitamin C to also build your immune system. These edibles include citrus fruits, such as grapefruits, oranges, and limes; as well as broccoli, strawberries, and Brussel sprouts.
  • Lysine. Chicken, salmon, tuna, vegetables such as beets, tomatoes, and turnips; butter and fruits such as mango and apple can lessen the chances of a cold sore. These foods and ingredients contain high lysine-to-arginine ratios. The latter type of protein feeds the virus that causes the sores, while a healthy cell prefers the lysine.
  • Block the sun. Use sunscreen, preferably SPF 30, on your lips to stunt the effects of ultraviolet rays. When you’re outside, wear hats to reduce the UV rays getting to your mouth.

How to Avoid Spreading Cold Sores?

Cold sore outbreaks can prove themselves extensive because the virus is highly contagious. To prevent others from having them:

  • Avoid sexual activity, especially oral sex, and kissing until the sores have completely cleared.
  • Do not share balms, ointments, or gels, utensils, cups, napkins, or food with others.
  • Wash or use sanitizer each time before or after applying balms, creams, or ointments
  • Unless you’re applying creams, ointments, or balms, do not touch the cold sore; avoid the urge to rub or scratch it.

If you should experience a cold sore, let us know if any of these treatments have helped you, or if you have further suggestions. Also, feel free to share this content with your friends, acquaintances, or others who may be affected or who need to know more about cold sores.

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