Cold sores or lip herpes are a common problem for many. Learn how to get rid of cold sores and more in the following lines.
Herpes infections are extremely common. About half of the world population will have it by the time they’re an adult. They can be very mild, or they can become problematic. You will find more information on cold sores below. Directly from a doctor, you will learn the symptoms, the causes, and consequences of this condition.
What are cold sores?
A cold sore is an infection produced by a virus named herpes simplex virus (HSV). Some people also call them fever blister or herpes simplex labialis.
Typically, these sores are groups of blisters around your lips. It can also affect the inside of the mouth, the genital area, or even the brain in severe cases.
When people get their first cold sore, it is known as the primary infection. After the body cures the symptoms in most of the herpesvirus infections, the virus remains living inside the nerve cells. This means it can cause cold sores again, which is known as recurrent cold sores.
Two main types of HSV infection can cause cold sores: herpes simplex virus type 1 and herpes simplex virus type 2. HSV 1 infection commonly causes cold sores, and HSV 2 has more relation to genital herpes.
How do they look?
Before getting a cold sore, a primary infection must occur. Anyone can get the infection from kissing someone with lip herpes, sharing cups, straws, knives, forks, or other personal items.
Usual symptoms in primary infection include: burning in the mouth, sore throat, upset stomach, fever, headache, or body aches. Sometimes, this primary infection causes pain that makes it difficult to swallow food or even water.
When it occurs in children, it can cause gingivostomatitis. This means a generalized inflammation or swelling of the inside of the mouth. The reactivation (or recurrence) of the viral infection is what we call a “cold sore.”
Before blisters appear, people experience an itching or tingling sensation. Then, the area becomes red or swollen and, a small blister appears.
At this point, the cold sore becomes painful. It might be painful for 2-3 days. After that, the blister tears and fluid come out, so a scab (or crust) can develop.
It can take 5-10 days for the scab to fall off. Sometimes, the itching or tingling sensation can appear without blisters. Sores can occur in the nose or cheeks, but they are more common around the lips.
What causes a herpes outbreak? Can you get cold sores from stress?
Reactivations or recurrences are also known as an outbreak. Many situations can trigger a herpes outbreak, such as stress, fatigue, colds, fevers, and strong sunlight (like at the beach).
Some women tend to experience cold sore symptoms during specific days of their period. Chronic stress produces chemicals in the body that lower its ability to fight off infections.
In this sense, stress is a common cause of cold sore outbreaks. People with a weakened immune system are also more prone to have a cold sore outbreak.
In patients with these aforementioned conditions, cold sores can be more challenging to treat and might not disappear without antiviral medication. Also, in these groups, the viral infection can affect beyond the lips and move on to the inside of the mouth.
When the infection affects the mouth, its name is oral herpes, and people commonly call it canker sores. Oral herpes is also very common and can cause very painful sores.
Can you permanently get rid of cold sores?
After the first infection, the body heals, and the virus starts living inside the nerves. Your immune system can control it only when outside the nerve. Therefore, your immune system cannot permanently get rid of the cold sore virus.
People with recurrent herpes infections should avoid common triggers. Each person is different when it comes to triggers. After a little while, people identify what causes cold sore outbreaks for them.
Some will have to avoid sunlight exposure and use sunscreen when avoidance is impossible. Others will find better ways to deal with stress and live normal lives.
Besides that, people with recurrent cold sores should have caution when an outbreak begins. When the tingling or itching sensation appears, they should avoid kissing, sharing cups or towels as well as they should avoid all types of physical contact with other people until the blister has wholly cured.
Can you get genital herpes from a cold sore?
As mentioned, herpes simplex virus type 1 is the usual cause of cold sores. On the other hand, herpes virus type 2 commonly causes genital herpes. However, it does not happen like that in every case.
Genital herpes is one of the most typical sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the world. In this sense, you can get genital herpes from having oral sexual relations with someone with oral herpes. Also, you can get oral herpes from practicing oral sex on someone with genital herpes. Overall, the only safe option to not get STIs is not to have any kind of sexual interaction.
Nevertheless, you can take action to lower the risk, like avoiding multiple sex partners or wearing a condom. Something essential to consider is that condoms don’t always cover genital sores, so they don’t always protect from herpes.
Some people with genital herpes might not have any symptoms, making it difficult to know when it is contagious.
What types of doctors treat them?
Any general practitioner is capable of diagnosing the cold sore blister just by looking at it. Besides, after the first time, patients can identify it by themselves.
Since they usually don’t require treatment, patients can manage it at home. Cold sores only require treatment in specific cases when they do not heal by themselves.
Even when most doctors can treat your cold sores, those specializing in the area are internists, dermatologists, and infectious medicine doctors. Internists study all medical problems that do not involve surgery. A dermatologist studies diseases of the skin. And infectious medicine doctors study diseases that include bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Nonetheless, if you have any underlying condition that affects your immune system, you should ask the doctor that treats it. For example, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you should contact your rheumatologist before any new treatment.
If you have something on your lip, but you are not sure what it is, you should visit your doctor. If your doctor is unsure, they might take a sample by rubbing a cotton swab and sending it to the laboratory. Other tests can be useful if you have other forms of herpes infection. Generally, diagnostic tests are not necessary to diagnose cold sores.
How to get rid of cold sores?
Cold sores heal without treatment after approximately a week or two. If a cold sore is not healing, and it is growing, a doctor should check it.
If they confirm it is a complicated herpes infection, they might prescribe some antiviral medicine. These medicines prevent the virus from growing in your body, including antiviral creams and antiviral tablets.
Whether they prescribe tablets or creams depends on many factors, so it is better to ask a healthcare professional.
Topical creams are available over the counter, but it is better to use them when the diagnosis is certain. They might reduce the symptoms and the duration of the outbreak a couple of days.
Some of these creams have brand names, but the compounds can be: acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir. If you are not applying any creams, make sure the area is always clean. Water and a bar of mild soap are good options to keep it clean.
In case you have very painful blisters, plenty of topical anesthetic creams are available. Anesthetics numb the area of the skin where someone applies them. Some examples include creams with lidocaine or benzocaine. A pharmacist could directly assist your decision when buying one.
What are the best ways to get rid of a cold sore?
Other treatments besides antiviral medicines, can reduce the duration and the symptoms of the outbreak. However, results may vary from one person to another.
A very common cold sore remedy is lemon balm. It comes in lip balms or creams, as well as leaves for a tea (infusion). Lemon balm infusions can help relieve stress and boost the immune system. Aloe vera also has good results in preventing and treating new outbreaks.
Many creams, lip balms, and gels contain amounts of aloe vera and are widely available over-the-counter (OTC). Some people find that taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen reduces the pain of the herpes outbreak. Despite relieving the symptoms, these two medications don’t reduce the duration of the blister.
Other people find that by regularly using lip balms with sunscreen, they decrease the outbreak’s extent. Besides, regular sunscreen on the lips reduces the number of recurrences.
Another significant change to reduce the duration of outbreaks is managing stress. Some people find that decreasing stress minimizes the course of the blisters. Practicing sports, meditation, or yoga are good examples of activities that will help with stress and anxiety management.
Many other natural alternatives are available, like licorice root, rhubarb, sage, or echinacea. Vitamin E and vitamin C could be helpful, as well. Vitamin E is available in oils. The best option to apply vitamin E is directly on the cold sore patch. It works by repairing damaged skin to it helps the sore to heal. On the other side, vitamin C improves the count of immune cells, so it helps your body fight off the infection.
How to get rid of cold sores in children?
Before knowing the treatment for fever blisters in children, we must discuss some particularities about kids. Since herpes is such a common infection, kids can get it almost anywhere.
The most common age is around five years, but any age after they start taking things into their mouths is possible. Primary infection in children can also be very mild.
Sometimes, parents don’t even notice the sores. In other children, primary infection can have more evident symptoms like fever or swollen glands.
The infection can spread to the mouth and throat, making it painful for the kid to eat or drink. The usual treatment is the same as adults because the body heals itself.
However, if the sore is not healing, it is important to consult a pediatrician. Cold or chilled treats are good to relieve the pain and discomfort, and they prevent dehydration.
Dehydration happens when the kid doesn’t take any liquids because of the pain. Acid foods should not be given because they irritate the blisters and cause further pain. These include citruses like orange, lemon, or grapefruit, tomatoes, and vinegar.
If the kid is not eating o drinking, a pediatrician can prescribe acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or other OTC medications. Another critical case to consult a pediatrician is in primary infection cases in small children, especially under six months. Kids under six months of age have a weaker immune system and could develop complications.
Does drinking water or toothpaste help to get rid of cold sores?
Some people think that drinking water, thus preventing dehydration, prevents cold sores. Other than that, drinking cold water, cold beverages, or applying ice can help with the pain. Even some people apply cold, used tea bags. Teabags are a source of tea tree oil. Tea tree oil, “melaleuca oil,” and other essential oils can be useful to relieve painful sores.
When it comes to toothpaste, there is no scientific information to support the fact that it improves cold sores. It is a popular belief of some that a dab of toothpaste when the tingling starts prevents the blisters.
Others say that if your toothpaste contains bicarbonate, it is even better. Possibly, one fact that could help is the refreshing feel provided by toothpaste, as it would relieve the pain. However, please bear in mind that toothpaste is not designed for the skin. So, it must not be any surprise that toothpaste tends to irritate and cause swelling in the skin.
Do you have symptoms of this infection?
This tool is a Herpes Symptoms Checker. It gathers the most important signs, symptoms, and risk factors for either genital or facial herpes infection. Therefore, the tool will help anyone who uses it to determine their symptoms because of this infection. The best feature of this tool is that it is free and would take a few minutes.