Cold Sores

Woman covering her mouth

A cold sore, otherwise called Herpes Labialis, is a viral infection of the lip resulting from a virus called herpes simplex virus, and will create sores or blisters on the skin of the lip and mouth after the virus has entered into the skin via a cut on the skin of the lip or mouth. Although the infection will usually go away within a few weeks, the virus can lay dormant just under the skin within the nerves of the face, and will often, over successive periods of time, reactivate and create more cold sores either at the same area as before or elsewhere on the face. Recent data show that almost 60% of Americans have the cold sore virus. Also, almost 90% of people at the age of 50 have this virus. Furthermore, over 50 million people in the U.S. experience cold sore symptoms each year. A person with the virus can expect to experience periodic episodes of the virus of up to twelve times per year, though most will only experience it about 3 times a year.

Causes

As mentioned above, a person contracts the cold sore virus when the virus comes into contact with a broken area of the skin on the mouth or lip. Certain causes or triggers for the virus to activate in the body are, for example, stress, exposure to sunlight (including sunburn), dehydration, fever, and menstruation. Furthermore, trauma to the skin can cause a cold sore, stemming from such events as a surgical procedure involving the nerves or dental work, tattooing of the lip, as well as dermabrasion. Also, although rare, a cold sore can be passed on to a newborn baby via hospital staff or family members who themselves have the virus. Such an occurrence can develop into what’s termed a Neonatal herpes simplex disease, and can be quite serious to the baby’s health. On a more basic level, a cold sore can be caused if you touch a cold sore on another person or if you come into contact with the fluid that is infected with the virus, via sharing spoons and forks, etc. with an infected person, sharing razors, kissing the other person or touching the infected person’s saliva.

Signs

Most of the time, a cold sore virus will show no signs or symptoms at all. However, if symptoms do appear, they usually go away in a couple of weeks. The most common sign is a sudden inflammation of the mucus membranes around the gums as well as the cheeks, usually around a week after the virus has entered the body. There are a host of other symptoms that are not realized as typical for a cold sore, such as severe headaches and a feeling of nausea, dizzy spells, a sore throat, fever, as well as terrible ulcers that can often be mistaken for a canker sore. It has also been recorded that in adolescents who have the virus, symptoms may include lesions on the cheek and gums, along with inflammation of the throat. Other people may experience symptoms such as a hard time swallowing, and enlarged lymph nodes. It should also be noted that, while rare, cold sores can also occur within the mouth, affecting not only the gums, but the roof of the mouth and the tongue.

Cures

One of the best means at managing the cold sore virus is prevention. So, a simple preventive measure is to avoid touching the area where a cold sore outbreak has occurred. Also, be sure to wash your hands frequently during the course of the viral outbreak, so as to not spread the virus to other parts of your body and to other people. Additionally, if you have the virus, try not to share certain items which may be laden with the cold sore virus, such as your eating utensils. Finally, avoid sexual contact such as oral sex, kissing, and also try to stay away from sporting activity that involves lots of contact. Treatment options for the virus vary. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration recommends applying a topical solution called Docosanol, which is a fatty alcohol. However, this solution should only be used in adults who have a good immune system. Another option is to apply antiviral cream, or else a zinc oxide cream, to the infected area of the lip or mouth. Also available are antiviral pills, such as penciclovir and Famciclovir, and can be used as just a one-time dose.