WHAT ARE COLD SORES?
If you suffer from cold sores, you are not alone in your misery. They are small but mighty, and with them comes discomfort, inconvenience, and the urge to hide your face until they heal. So, what exactly is a cold sore, anyway? A cold sore is a small, painful, fluid-filled blister-like sore which usually appears on the border of the lips – although they can form in other places, such as the nostrils, nose and further away from the borders of the lips. The blisters form, pop and then dry to a yellowish crust. The average time period from onset to healing is about 10 days.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET COLD SORES?
Cold sores come from a virus you got as a child, called Herpes Simplex. In children, it causes fever and sometimes mouth sores. The child recovers, but the virus remains dormant in the body. In some people, the virus resurfaces later in adulthood in the form of cold sores. This is not to be confused with the Varicella-Zoster virus that causes chicken pox and later resurfaces as Herpes Zoster - commonly known as shingles - in adults, but the concept is the same.
WHAT CAUSES A COLD SORE TO FORM?
Things that can trigger a cold sore are things such as stress or illness – things that tend to weaken your immune system - as well as other causes such as trauma to the area and sunlight.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS? HOW CAN I TELL IF I AM GETTING ONE?
Typically, the first sign is tingling or stinging/burning sensation in an area on the outer border of the lip. This is called the “prodrome” period, which is the brief period of time between when symptoms appear and the blister stage. This will eventually be followed by a fluid-filled blister, which will eventually dry up, crust over and resolve (on average) within 10 days.
ARE THEY CONTAGIOUS?
Yes. It is most infectious when it is in the blister stage and can be passed to other people. Avoid kissing and sharing personal items such as cups and face towels. It is recommended that you also avoid touching cold sores, because you can pass the virus on to other people through hand contact.
CAN THEY BE STOPPED BEFORE THEY FORM?
There are medications available that can stop the formation of a cold sore entirely if caught early enough in development – or can shorten the duration of one. A dentist or physician can counsel you on whether these medications are right for you.
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