What is a cold sore?
Cold Sores Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Cold sores are common infections caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). It is characterized by an initial itching and tingling sensation, followed by blister appearances on the mouth and/or lips that will eventually pop and crust after a few days. These blisters may also form on the nose or cheeks.
Cold sores are highly contagious. This is why proper handwashing and avoiding touching the affected area is important to halt the virus's spread, causing it.
The condition often doesn't require treatment as it clears up on its own 7-10 days after symptoms appear. However, many doctors prescribe antiviral creams to help stop symptoms from getting worse.
You may want to visit your doctor if you are:
- Unsure whether or not your condition is a cold sore
- Having blisters that spread outside of your lips or mouth
- Not yet healing after 10 days
Cold Sore Symptoms
Here is the progression of symptoms that will appear in a person with a cold sore:
Itching and Tingling Sensation
You will feel itching and tingling on the lips, mouth, cheek, or nose (depending on the infected area) at most two days before seeing a hard spot.
Development of Hard Spots
After a couple of days of getting the itchy and tingling sensations, you will notice a hard spot that feels painful when touched.
The hard spots you have will now become fluid-filled blisters.
Bursting and Oozing
Blisters will then burst and ooze fluid out of them. They will now turn into an open sore. This is the most contagious stage of the disease, so avoid touching the oozing blisters or perform thorough handwashing before and after touching them.
Your open sores will now start to crust, which is a sign that they are healing. You'll notice temporary red marks on your skin, which will eventually fade in the future.
Now, if you contract the HSV-1 virus for the first time, the abovementioned symptoms may be accompanied by the following general discomforts:
- Sore throat
- Nauseated feeling
- Swollen glands
- Achy muscles
Simply manage these symptoms like you would an ordinary fever:
- Get lots of rest.
- Hydrate yourself.
- Take an antipyretic medication such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
- Do tepid sponge baths.
You may get a repeat episode of cold sores once you've caught the disease before. The onset, length, and time it takes to reoccur from the last episode varies greatly from person to person. It could reoccur monthly, yearly, or once every few years.
Reoccurrence is characterized by the same symptoms as the initial cold sore infection. The hard spots and blisters may form over the same areas where they used to be before. The sores will heal after a couple of weeks and will not cause any scarring anymore. The accompanying symptoms like fever, headache, and sore throat aren't typically present during a reoccurrence.
Certain triggering factors may predispose you to get cold sores. These are the following:
- Weak immune system– This is often brought about by too much stress and fatigue. Your immune defences go down, making it easier for the HSV-1 virus to get through your body. Getting more rest and addressing your stress's root causes can help bring back your strong immune defences.
- Hormonal changes– Women at the start of their periods are more likely to get cold sores. This is due to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone during this time. Use a prescription antiviral cream right away if you notice signs and symptoms of a cold sore while on your period.
- Cold weather– Viruses are likely to stay alive in cold weather conditions. That is why they can easily infect people and cause an outbreak during winter. Stay warm by bundling yourself up to avoid catching the cold sore virus.
- Exposure to UV rays– Staying under the sun too much can predispose you to cold sores. Combat the harmful effects of UV rays by using lip balms with SPF 15 or more, using wide-brimmed hats or umbrellas when outside, and trying to stay indoors as much as possible.
- Dental work– It is important to identify first if you have a cold sore before going to a dental appointment, as you may infect other dental patients. Discuss these possibilities with your dentist.
Cold Sore Response
Treatment for cold sores usually involves an antiviral cream directly applied to the affected areas. More severe cases warrant oral antiviral medications such as acyclovir. Patients usually respond well to these treatments, and their cold sores subside after around 10 days.
See a doctor if you still have symptoms beyond 10 days, if your sores become severely infected, or if the sores spread to areas other than your mouth, lips, nose, and cheeks.
Cold Sore: How we can help
You may consult a Mobidoctor physician online via video calls to show your symptoms and ask for advice. Our doctors can diagnose your cold sores right away and send the prescriptions for antiviral medications to your nearest pharmacy. They can also provide valuable advice on how to manage and prevent a reoccurrence of the illness.
Our Mobidoctor physicians are available 7 days a week for online video consultations, so book an appointment anytime and rest assured of professional medical service anytime, anywhere.