What is a Cold Sore
A cold sore is a common condition caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) that manifests itself in liquid-filled blisters around the lips, nose or chin. There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 which usually results in cold sores and HSV-2 which is commonly associated with genital herpes. About sixty percent of the population is infected with the cold sore strain (HSV-1).
How does it spread
The virus is often contracted during childhood, usually without our knowledge. It then remains dormant in our bodies until triggered by one of a variety of factors. Both HSV-1 (which produces cold sores) and HSV-2 (which produces most genital herpes) are contagious. They can be spread when an infected person is producing and shedding the virus. Herpes simplex can be spread through contact with saliva, such as sharing drinks. Once contracted, herpes viruses establish lifelong infections, and the virus cannot yet be eradicated from the body.
What causes an outbreak
Cold sore outbreaks are generally a result of physical, mental or emotional stress. Common triggers include:
- Cold and flu that lowers the immune system
- Fatigue from physical exertion or lack of sleep
- Cold weather and wind burn
- Exposure to sun, particularly on susceptible areas
- Fluctuating hormones
- Any form of stress
The Old Wives' Tales
There are many Wives Tales that claim to assist in reducing the frequency and intensity of cold sore outbreaks.
Timeline of an outbreak
A cold sore outbreak typically lasts 7-14 days and goes through numerous stages of symptoms:
Initial Tingle: the first symptom comes in the form of a tingling, burning or itching sensation. This usually lasts for around six hours and is the most effective time to begin treatment. Early treatment ensures the virus is attacked prior to cells duplicating.
Ballooning Blister: the affected area becomes reddened and the sore will develop a small cluster of blisters containing contagious fluid. This can continue to grow over a period of a few hours or continue for a few days. The blisters bring with them throbbing and continued itchiness.
Weeping: the blisters will swell, possibly forming one large blister, and then eventually burst. This is the most painful and contagious stage of the cycle. Since the weeping fluid can lead to the cold sore spreading to other areas, it is best to keep the area as dry and contained as possible.
Scabbing: A dry scab with a brown crust forms. If this cracks, itching, burning and bleeding can occur. Use of moisturizers rich in Vitamin E can assist in keeping the scab intact.
Healing: The scab flakes off and the cold sore lesion is completely healed.