Coping With Cold Sores

Cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters or sores that appear on the lips, mouth, or nose that are caused by a virus. The sores can be painful and usually last a few days. Unlike most viral infections, the cold sore virus is not completely eliminated by the body defenses. For this reason, cold sores often recur.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests how to cope with them:

  • Apply an over-the-counter antiviral cold-sore medication that contains docosanol or benzyl alcohol.
  • Apply an ice pack to ease pain, or an over-the-counter pain-relieving gel or ointment.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to manage pain.
  • Avoid acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, as well as spicy and salty foods.
  • Apply a cold, damp rag to the sores several times a day for five to 10 minutes at a time.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to the sore and surrounding skin.

Cold sores have a tendency to recur in more or less the same place each time. Such recurrences may happen often (for example, once a month) or only occasionally (for example, once or twice a year). 

Recurrent cold sores usually do not require medical care. A few people may have cold sores that come so frequently that a doctor will prescribe a daily medication to reduce the number of attacks. It is not possible to predict for how long the treatment should continue, because the virus continues to live in the ganglion. Thus, stopping suppressive treatment is largely a trial and error procedure.

Cold sores are really contagious . If you have a cold sore, it’s very easy to infect another person. The virus spreads through direct contact — through skin contact or contact with oral or genital secretions (like through kissing). Although the virus is most contagious when a sore is present, it can still be passed on even if you can’t see a sore. It can also be spread by sharing a cup, eating utensils, or lip balm or lipstick with someone who has it.

People who have very weak immune systems from chemotherapy or other causes may have very severe outbreaks of cold sores. These look like the primary attacks described above. Medical care should be sought promptly to avoid complications.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology

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