Cold sores (fever blisters): Causes, symptoms and treatment
Have you ever seen small lesions around your lips and cheeks?
They are quite a nuisance and can be irritating.
Some people even have them appear on their gums and chin.
These are called cold sores.
Everything you need to know about cold sores is covered in this post.
What are Cold Sores
So what are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are also known as fever blisters.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is one of the main reasons you can get it.
Sometimes they can happen because of a stubborn infection.
While there isn’t a way in which you can cure this infection or treat cold sores, you can try some steps which will reduce the frequency in which they take place and the time duration of the outbreaks.
Stages of a Cold Sore
Your small blisters will go through five stages:
Stage 1: This is when it sets in. You will feel a certain itch and tingling. It continues for a day till the first blister appears.
Stage 2: The blisters will start to show. They are fluid-filled and affect your confidence.
Stage 3: This is when the blisters become painful. They will ooze and sometimes burst too.
Stage 4: At this point, these sores completely dry out but they lead to extensive itching and cracking of skin.
Stage 5: The scab then falls off and this is a good sign. It means your cold sores are healing.
We will now talk in detail about the risk factors that are associated to this skin condition:
Cold Sore Risk Factors
Adults who develop genital herpes simplex type 1 virus are likely to face the condition again if they are subjected to certain risk factors like:
- A complicated infection or high fever
- A strong cold which needs medication
- Sun exposure for long duration
- Stress which is leading to anxiety and depression
- Being subjected to HIV/AIDS
- Having a weakened immune system
- Facing severe burns
- Eczema diagnosis
- Chemotherapy in progress
- Dental work is consistent
Also, if you come in close contact with someone who has a cold sore and you are sharing the same drinks, food, kissing the person or sharing other personal items. Sharing the same virus raises your chances of being infected.
Cold Sore Symptoms
Now we will discuss in detail how these sores form on your face. Since they are created when you contract the herpes virus, the place where they form is from where the virus enters.
Anyone who is above 20 years old who is likely to get infected by the virus will have cold sores.
In case you are getting the infection for the first-time, you will experience the following:
- You feel a burning sensation
- There is severe pain inside your mouth
- Getting subjected to sore throat
- You feel strong pain when trying to swallow
- Headaches become frequent and you need medication for relief
- An upset stomach
Causes of Cold Sores
Cold sore can form due to certain strains of the herpes simplex virus, HSV.
HSV-1 often causes cold sores, on the other hand, HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes.
However, either type of cold sores can spread to the face or genitals through close contact. Sharing utensils, razors, and towels can also cause HSV-1 to spread.
Moreover, cold sores are contagious while you have oozing blisters as the virus spreads easily through contact with body fluids.
But you can also have the virus even if you do not have blisters. It is important to note that many individuals do not experience any signs and symptoms of this condition.
Once you have an episode of herpes infection, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells of your skin and can emerge as another cold sore.
Certain factors like viral infection, fever, hormonal changes, stress, fatigue, exposure to sunlight and win,d changes in the immune system or injury to the skin can trigger it.
When to see a doctor
Cold sores aren’t a major cause of concern and they usually clear up on their own.
However, in certain cases, you will need to see a doctor when things get worse.
Get an appointment when:
- The immune system is weaker and need professional consultation
- You are having cold sores for more than 2 weeks and they aren’t healing, in fact getting far worse
- The symptoms have become severe and you need medical assistance
- A frequent feeling of recurrence of cold sores
- There is persistent irritation in the eyes
Treatment of Cold Sores
Again cold sores don’t have a cure.
There is no magic wand that will make them disappear. Having unsafe oral sex can also trigger cold sores as well as shared eating utensils.
Once the conditions have set in, a cold sore is the last step to getting it worse before it gets better.
In this case- your herpes or viral infection.
Fortunately some people who get the virus type 2 hsv-2, they won’t have drastic outbreaks.
Whereas in the cases of those who do, fear not.
Check out these certain options that will help alleviate the symptoms:
Ointments and creams
There are several ointments that work great. While these creams don’t actually cure your skin condition, they do help to in controlling the pain.
They also help in promoting your healing mechanism as many of these ointments are antiviral.
They are most effective when you apply them as soon as you see the sores are forming.
Also don’t shy away from applying them often. In fact the more the merrier. Apply these relieving creams at least four to five times in the start.
Another option at your disposal is the cream ‘Dososanol’.
This is an over the counter ointment which can also be applied several times in a day. It is an over-the counter cream which makes the outbreak manageable by shortening the affected time period.
In certain cases when your symptoms become so severe that you are constantly in pain and it is also affecting your self-confidence, a good option would be to reach out to the experts.
Medical professionals like those in Al-Qudrah Medical Clinic, look into your unique case and will advise certain medications after diagnosing your symptoms and reflecting on your medical history.
Some of the popular oral antiviral medications you will be administered are acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), or famciclovir (Famvir).
However you can get these drugs only on your doctor’s prescription so it’s best you have a consultation before deciding on them.
In some cases, your doctor will suggest you take them for a few days whereas where the cold sore has advanced progressively and you have complications, a regular schedule of administration will be made. You will also be advanced to meet the doctor regularly to determine the treatment progress.
Now let’s talk about how you can make use of home treatments.
These are easy to apply and are easy on the pocket too.
While in certain severe cases they won’t be of much help but in many situations they do help to provide relief from the core sore symptoms and combat their progression.
Some of the common ones are:
- Ease your symptoms by applying ice or washcloths soaked in cold water over the sores.
- Make use of lip balm which consists of lemon extract.
- If you take lysine supplements continuously for a few days, it will help with the less frequent outbreaks for some people.
- Aloe vera provides instant cold sore relief. Apply aloe vera gel or a lip balm containing aloe vera lip to your cold sore at least three times a day. It is a miracle plant because it consists of a cooling gel that has many soothing properties.
- Use petroleum jelly. It helps with the discomfort and also prevents cracking. Vaseline is also used to make a protective barrier against outside irritants.
- This may come as a surprise to you but Witch hazel is also a great natural astringent. It works great on cold sores because it helps to dry them out. The sooner they dry, the quicker they heal. It also has antiviral qualities.
So Why Are They Painful?
One of the most horrible side effects to this condition is the constant pain you are in.If near your lips or mouth, they crack and it makes hard for you to eat, drink or even communicate.
To relieve the pain and manage it better, you have certain over-the-counter medications to look into. These help with the discomfor
The most common ones are:
Oranje, Blistex, Cymex, Anbesol, and Tylenol (in less severe cases)
One important tip- never applying the medication with your fingers. Instead use a cotton swab or a Q-tip to dab these ointments and creams on the infected area.
Complications of Cold Sores
The good thing is that there have been very few instances when cold sores become complicated
But in some cases they do and they impact the immune system.
Severe cases can have one or more of the following complications:
• Getting dehydrated- this is because it becomes painful to drink
• Herpetic whitlow- this is when the infection takes place through a cut on the skin. This causes blisters and leads to cold sores formation
• Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis- it usually happens in complex cases. It can cause eye swelling and irritation, as well as sores on the eyelids and in critical situations- also vision loss
• Swelling of the brain- this is deadly complication which takes place when the infection has spread drastically in the body.
Prevention of Cold Sores
When you or your partner is subjected to cold sores, you can try the following steps to avoid its spread:
- Avoid kissing
- Also refrain from other activities which are skin-to-skin
- Don’t share personal items with one another Adapt proper hand-washing techniques
- Refrain from touching those areas in which cold sores can develop like the eyes, mouth, nose, and genitals
So what we have come to know about cold sores is while in general sense they are not deadly or harmful, but they are painful and a nuisance to your lifestyle.
If you are facing mild cold sores you can treat them with home remedies or use over the counter medications. They will provide some relief.
However in cases where severe complications can arise, you will need medical help.
These outbreaks weaken the immune system and you will need immediate medical attention in case of oral herpes.