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Cold sores

Couple kissing in field
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What is a cold sore?

A cold sore is an infection of the skin which appears as small painful blisters, it is very contagious especially when the blisters burst.

What are the symptoms of a cold sore?

These blisters are usually referred to as cold sores or fever blisters and they can also occur on the roof of your mouth, lips, tongue and insides of your cheeks. These blisters are usually accompanied by a fever and muscle aches which may last up to three weeks.

However, symptoms like these tend to be a much more serious type of herpes virus presentation rather than cold sores. There are an array of cold sore remedies that you can use to treat your cold sores, from patches to creams, to find out more visit our cold sore treatment guide.

What causes cold sores?

Oral herpes or a cold sore is caused by the herpes simplex virus; it is an infection of the mouth, lips and gums which appears as small painful blisters. Most people contract the virus when they’re young and after they have come into contact with someone who has the virus. The virus then stays in your skin for your whole life; you may not know that you have it until cold sores start to appear. You may not notice any symptoms until you are a lot older.

What are the stages of a cold sore?

As cold sores develop they go through a number of stages, however there are different symptoms that you should be aware of. Also it’s good to keep in mind that everyone’s body heals differently, so your cold sores may take longer to disappear than other people’s.

  • Stage one: You can feel tingling and itching around 24 hours before the blisters appear.
  • Stage two: You will notice fluid filled blisters break out on your skin.
  • Stage three: The blisters will burst and ooze fluid; consequently they will form a painful sore.
  • Stage four: The sores will dry out and a scab will form over them. During this stage the cold sores will feel itchy and the skin will begin to crack.
  • Stage five: The scabs will fall off and the cold sore will heal.

Things to avoid when you have a cold sore

Cold sores are very contagious, especially when the blisters are present, to stop from spreading the virus there are certain things you should avoid:

  • Touching your cold sore
  • Kissing
  • Sharing anything that comes in contact with your cold sore, like tooth brushes, cutlery and lipsticks
  • Having oral sex until your cold sore has completely healed

If you have a cold sore it is important that you don’t kiss new born babies as this is very dangerous and can lead to neonatal herpes. Their immune system is not as developed as an adult’s and so they may not be able to fight off the virus.

What can trigger a cold sore?

There are a variety of environmental and physical factors which can bring on an outbreak of cold sores, these are different from person to person. Once you have identified your triggers you might be able to put some steps in place that will help you to avoid these situations in the future.

  • Stress – these emotions can wear down your immune system making you more vulnerable to infections.
  • Fatigue – being tired can also affect your immune system. When your body is worn out you’ll become vulnerable to a cold sore outbreak as your body cannot fight off the virus as well as it usually could.
  • Weather – cold weather can dry out lips and cause cracks and sores to appear. To avoid this can you protect your skin from the wind and cold with lip salves and moisturisers. On the other hand too much exposure to the sun can damage the skin, including your lips. Using an SPF enriched lip balm or wearing a wide-brimmed hat can help you to protect your skin.
  • Hormonal changes – for women your menstrual cycle can also trigger a cold sore outbreak, this can be easily tracked and then you can be better prepared for an out beak.
  • Cold or flu – when your immune system is already compromised cold sores you are more likely to get a cold sore.

Are cold sores herpes?

Cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus which is categorised by types – Type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is commonly transmitted by mouth-to-mouth contact and causes oral herpes (the symptoms appear as cold sores) as well as genital herpes. HSV-2 is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes genital herpes.

Can you pop a cold sore on your lip?

This is one of the worst things you can do to a cold sore. Not only will it hurt but by squeezing the sore you can help the infected fluid inside to spread to another part of your mouth or lip. Also the infection can be transmitted to your eyes, fingers, other body parts and even other people. This could make your next outbreak of cold sores much more severe.

How do you get rid of a cold sore?

Cold sores will naturally heal within 10 days if you chose not to use home remedies or any over the counter products. Your local pharmacist will be able to advise you on what creams you could use to ease the pain and speed up the healing time. You can also use cold sore patches to protect the skin allowing the cold sores to heal uninterrupted.

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