It happens all too often for many of us, we go to bed and wake up the next morning with a cold sore. Cold sores are also known as “fever blisters” which often appear on or around the lips, chin or cheek. The herpes simplex virus is responsible for the formation of these fluid filled blisters which may cause pain, redness and swelling around the affected area.
The herpes simplex virus is easily transmitted from one person to the next by touching a cold sore or the fluid inside one, sharing utensils, kissing an infected person or through saliva. There must be a break in the skin in order for the virus to enter the body. Once a person becomes infected with the virus, it will remain dormant for the rest of one’s lifetime. When the virus is active it travels down the nerve cells to the skin often causing a painful, fluid filled blister to appear. Although there is no cure for cold sores there are treatments that are readily available to reduce the severity of symptoms and decrease healing time.
The first time a cold sore appears is known as the “primary” episode. This infection tends to be more painful and longer lasting than subsequent infections. Symptoms may include pain, itching or tingling around the mouth, fever, sore throat or swollen glands. The duration of this primary infection may range from two to six weeks. Some people may never have another episode while others may experience several throughout the year. It is important to remember that subsequent infections tend to be shorter in duration and symptom severity often decreases as well.
For some patients, cold sores may cause pain or embarrassment even though they tend to resolve on their own. Your pharmacist can suggest or even prescribe medications such as Valtrex or Zovirax that may decrease the duration of a cold sore. Over the counter medications (where no prescription is required) often contain an ingredient such as benzocaine to decrease the pain or itching associated with cold sores. Abreva, is another over the counter product which if applied in a timely manner (right when the tingling or burning sensation begins) may also decrease healing time.
Triggers often vary from person to person but may include stress, a weakened immune system, intense sunlight or injury to the affected area. Remember, there is no need to cringe next time you feel that burning or tingling sensation, your pharmacist is here to help you!
Tammy Callaghan Pharmacist, BSP