Cold sores are a lesion of the face that is often found on either the lips or the skin around the lips. These lesions are commonly referred to as “fever blisters.”
Who Can Get Cold Sores?
The Herpes Simplex Virus, the causative virus for cold sores, is present in the bodies of people who have been infected with the virus. Infection from the herpes simplex virus is common in children under the age of 7. Unlike other lesions, the cold sore is not a reaction to a new virus, but a symptom of a virus constantly present in the body.
The ultimate cause of a cold sore is the Herpes Simplex Virus. In order for the virus to produce a reactive condition, such as a cold sore, an initial herpes infection will have had to occur previously. This initial herpes infection will not manifest itself in the form of a cold sore. The symptoms related to an initial herpes simplex reaction include:
- Painful Swallowing
After the first few days of infection have passed, these symptoms will change from the more traditional viral reaction to a set of symptoms focused on the mouth of the infected person. The second stage symptoms include:
- Painful Gums
- Inflamed Gum Line
- Tiny Blisters inside the Mouth
After these tiny blisters appear they will rupture and take on a gray, ulcerated look. These ulcers can be extremely painful and will require 10 to 14 days to heal. Most initial herpes infections occur before the age of 7 and thus many people will have no memory of this first encounter with herpes simplex.
Subclinical infection is common in 98% of the herpes simplex infections. Subclinical infection often produces no noticeable symptoms in the person who has come in contact with the herpes simplex virus.
Cold sores are characterized by a visible lesion on the lips or mouth. Before the lesion becomes visible, the area of protrusion may feel tingly and tender to the touch. These symptoms can last anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days before the lesion finally appears on the skin.
After the lesion has appeared, it will grow through 3 stages; pustular, ulcerative and crusting. The pustular stage of the cold sore is characterized by the growth of the cold sore and the appearance of a liquid filled pustule on the skin of the mouth. Following the pustular is the ulcerative stage where the cold sore begins to dry out. At the end of the ulcerative stage, crusting occurs and the cold sore will be nearly healed.
Over the Counter Treatments
The most common over the counter treatment for cold sores are reactive in nature. Medicated lip balms and salves are used to decrease the appearance of the cold sore and keep the pain to a minimum. Preventative medications are also available for those who notice the symptoms of the cold sore before the blister erupts from the skin. These creams are used to reduce the amount of time the blister will be visible and the size of the blister.
Alternative Treatments for Cold Sores
The three most common alternative treatments for cold sores are lactobacillus acidophilus, lysine and zinc.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – Most commonly used to treat stomach disorders, lactobacillus acidophilus contains living bacteria that has been shown to treat cold sores and help to prevent the recurrence of cold sores.
- L-Lysine – L-Lysine is an amino acid naturally occurring in the body. Studies have shown that L-Lysine helps to reduce the pain and the duration of the cold sore symptoms, as well as reduce the number of recurrences throughout the years. Lysine should be used as a preventative treatment that is taken on a daily basis. Those who stopped taking the Lysine often experienced a recurrence of a cold sore within one to four weeks of stopping the amino acid supplementation.
- Zinc – When using zinc to treat a cold sore, it is imperative not to use the most common form of zinc; zinc oxide cream. Instead, rub a zinc lozenge on the affected skin to deliver a usable dose of zinc and a hefty boost of vitamin C.
In most cases, the body will be able to fight off the cold sore and the herpes simplex virus without medical intervention. If a fever accompanies the cold sore or if the cold sore continues to grow for more than a few days, a doctor may need to prescribe an anti-viral medication to help the body to fight off the herpes simplex virus.