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Cold Sores The Causes and Consequences

Most people have heard of cold sores but not many know the full facts. Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, can be a nuisance and bothersome if you don’t take the steps to treat them correctly. But why should you? From who is affected by cold sores, what they are, when they occur, where they affect us and why. From children to adults, cold sores can linger and cause discomfort for anyone of any age.

Once the virus enters the body, the person may not realise what’s happening or why the symptoms keep coming back. Sufferers may experience physical pain, burning or itching around the mouth area and can become a serious mental burden if not dealt with properly.

Who Could Catch Cold Sores?

Unfortunately, anyone can catch cold sores but some people are more susceptible than others.

Woman smiling with cold sore on lip
Woman smiling with cold sore on lip

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are contagious sores that appear on the lips or around the mouth. These sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Once the virus enters the body, it travels to the nerves and remains dormant until it is triggered. Triggers for the virus to reactivate can include stress, a weakened immune system, a fever, or exposure to sunlight. When the virus is reactivated, it travels back to the skin and causes a cold sore to form. Cold sores are usually very itchy or painful.

Additionally, cold sores can cause a burning or tingling sensation in the affected area. In some cases, the virus can be asymptomatic, meaning that there are no visible signs or symptoms of the infection. In this case, it is possible for the virus to be spread to other people even if there are no visible signs or symptoms.

In rare cases, cold sores can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). This can be the result of having oral sex with someone who has genital herpes.

It is essential to note that while cold sores can be uncomfortable they are not life-threatening. They typically resolve on their own within 2-4 weeks, and there are various over-the-counter medications and home remedies available to help alleviate symptoms and speed up the healing process.

When Are You Likely To Catch Cold Sores?

The virus can be spread from person to person through contact, such as kissing or sharing a drink or utensil. It can also be spread through contact with an object that has the virus on it, such as a razor or a towel.

Those who have weakened immune systems, such as with HIV/AIDS or cancer, are also more likely to experience recurrent outbreaks of cold sores.

People who are under stress or are experiencing hormonal changes are also more susceptible to outbreaks. In females it is often trigger by their menstrual cycle. Another risk factor is exposure to sunlight, as this can trigger the virus to reactivate.

Children are also at a higher risk for developing cold sores. This is because they may be exposed to the virus through contact with someone who is already infected.

Where Would They Affect You Physically And Mentally?

Most commonly the small blisters or cluster of blisters appear on or around the lips. These can develop into ulcers with grey or yellow centres. You will usually have a sore throat with or without swollen glands. You may also have bad breath (halitosis) and painful sores in your mouth.

If left untreated, cold sores can cause a few possible complications. One is that it can spread to other areas of the face or body, such as the eyes or genitals. Additionally, the virus can spread to other people, which can cause more outbreaks in the future.

Furthermore, if the virus enters the bloodstream, it can cause a more serious infection, such as encephalitis or meningitis. It is also possible for people with weakened immune systems to experience more severe symptoms of the infection.

Physically, cold sores can be quite uncomfortable and painful. The blisters can lead to itching, burning, and tingling sensations, making it difficult for individuals to eat, speak, or smile comfortably. The blisters can also be unsightly if they are in a noticeable area, such as the lips or nose.

Mentally, cold sores can also have a significant impact on an individual’s emotional well-being. The visible nature of the infection can cause feelings of shame, embarrassment, and self-consciousness, leading to anxiety and social isolation. Additionally, the discomfort and pain associated with cold sores can make it difficult for individuals to carry out their daily activities, leading to feelings of frustration and helplessness.

Woman with sore throat
Woman with sore throat

Why Does It Matter To Deal With Cold Sores?

If you have cold sores that do not go away after a few days, or if they become more painful or start to spread, it is important to see a doctor. Additionally, if you develop any other symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes or a sore throat, it is important to seek medical attention.

A doctor can diagnose the virus and recommend a treatment plan. It is also important to see a doctor if you have HIV or cancer, as these conditions can weaken the immune system and make it more likely for cold sores to occur. Additionally, if you experience any vision changes or if your cold sores spread to other areas of the body, it is important to see a doctor for further evaluation.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cold Sores

In order to diagnose cold sores, a doctor may perform a physical examination of the affected area and order a blood test to check for the presence of the virus. Once the virus has been identified, the doctor can recommend a treatment plan. The most common treatment option is to take an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir, to help reduce the symptoms and speed up the healing process. In addition to medication, there are a few things a person can do to help manage their cold sores. One is to keep the affected area clean and dry, and to avoid touching or picking at the blisters. It is also important to avoid sharing items such as utensils or towels with others, as this can spread the virus. Additionally, wearing sunscreen on the lips can help protect them from the sun’s UV rays, which can trigger the virus.

How to Manage Cold Sores

If you do get a cold sore, it is important to take steps to manage it. The first step is to treat it with an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir. Additionally, it is important to keep the affected area clean and dry, and to avoid touching or picking at the blisters. Applying a cold compress to the affected area can also help reduce swelling and discomfort. Additionally, it is important to get enough rest and to practice stress relief techniques, such as yoga or meditation. It is also important to avoid sharing items with others, such as utensils or towels, to prevent the spread of the virus. Additionally, it is important to practice safe sex, as this can help prevent the spread of the virus. Lastly, it is important to eat a balanced diet and to stay hydrated to help keep the immune system strong.

Bloody Marvellous Limited goes to great lengths to ensure that, to the best of its knowledge, the information provided on this website and its social media channels is correct at the time of publication and/or subsequent modification. This information is solely for general purposes. It has been prepared in order to provide information, education and related products/services offered by Bloody Marvellous and Associated Organisations.