Cold Sores

Cold sores are generally confused with canker sores. There is common misunderstanding that cold sore is synonym for canker sores. However, this is not true and medically they are two different terms and diseases altogether. Canker sores are painful white or pale yellow color ulcers that develop inside the mouth due to damage of the mucous membrane lining and they are not contagious.
On the contrary, cold sores also known as fever blisters or herpes labialis and are agonizing red color sores or blisters that erupt on the mouth, lips and other facial area. This type of sore can develop on fingers and chin as well. They last for about two weeks. Cold sores are usually filled with clear fluid, they burst after sometime and scab is formed over it. They are highly contagious and can easily spread by direct contact. Cold sores are caused due to herpes simplex virus type 1 infection.
Cold sores are caused by using or sharing wash towels and razors of infected person. Kissing, sharing utensils with the person infected with cold sores can cause these ulcers. It may also spread through skin to skin contact while infected skin is shedding. Herpes virus enters through sever in the skin. Not everyone who catches the herpes simplex virus gets cold sores. However, once a person is infected and gets cold sores, they have a tendency to recur and the virus usually lie dormant in nerve cell scabbard.
Cold sores virus travels from the cut in the skin to the cells of the epidermis (upper layer of the skin) and through the epidermis it further moves up to the nerve cell and rests in an area called ganglion. Ganglion is an anthology of nerve cells. The recurrence of cold sores is attributable to reactivation of the herpes virus. This could be due to persisting medical condition like common cold, flu and fever. Stress, poor immune system, excessive intake of alcohol, hormonal changes, menstruation and external damage to skin due to excess sun exposure or physical injury to skin are other reason that may reactivate the latent virus.
Prodrome of cold sores:
• Pain in mouth
• Pain on lips
• Fever
• Swollen glands
• Sore throat
• Burning sensation or tingling around the lips and mouth
• Redness around the lips
• Itching around facial areas
Symptoms of cold sores in children:
Apart from the above prodrome, children may encounter other symptoms like:
• Excessive saliva
• Dehydration
• Headaches
• Nausea
Treatment of cold sores:
• Apply over the counter acyclovir, Zovirax cold sores cream on the affected part.
• Pencyclovir available in Soothelip brand is also effective cold sores cream.
• Medicines like acyclovir and valacyclovir can be taken orally.
• Patches that look like band aid are available as over the counter medicine. They contain hydrocolloid gel that helps in healing cold sores. Nevertheless, patches can be used only on one or two cold sores as in multiple outbreak case it may not be possible to use several patches for obvious reasons.
• For relief from painful blisters take ibuprofen or medicine containing Lidocaine.
• Benzocaine also aids in alleviating pain and to an extent irritation caused by the cold sores.
In severe cases of cold sores, antibiotics and anti-viral medication helps recover faster. Anti-HSV agents that are available in pill form are effective in treating serious cold sores condition.
As mentioned earlier cold sores can recur and therefore it is imperative to take precaution and prevent reappearance. Avoid excess sun exposure and use sunscreen or lip balm as protection. Consciously do not share utensils, creams, cosmetics, towel and razors with infected persons. Avoid kissing or any kind of direct contact with the skin. Maintain hand hygiene. Do not touch other parts of body when infected with cold sores. Stress and lack of sleep also triggers eruptions hence try to avoid it.
Cold sores can be treated with over the counter medication. However, maintaining proper hygiene and taking precautions can significantly reduce recurrence of cold sores.