You’ve gotten a cold sore before. Around 70-90% of people worldwide test positive for the herpes virus that causes cold sores. And if you’ve gotten a cold sore, you know that they can be painful both physically and socially. No one wants an oozing sore on their mouth – an area that is highly visible and sensitive to stimuli.
Is there anything you can do to prevent and treat cold sores so their duration and symptoms are reduced? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Read on to learn more about cold sores and other herpes symptoms, what causes flare-ups, and what simple things you can do to prevent and calm outbreaks.
Most cold sores are caused by HSV-1, or the herpes simplex virus 1. Many people who have herpes never show symptoms, although they can still spread the HSV virus. Shingles is another infection caused by the herpes virus, which mostly affects older adults and is caused by the chickenpox virus. Shingles symptoms are usually a single line of blisters that wrap around one side of your torso, but the painful rash can also appear on your face and neck. Once you have the herpes virus, it stays in your body, mostly staying dormant, but occasionally manifesting as cold sores. The good news is that, over time, when managed well, herpes tends to flare-up less with a reduction in the severity of symptoms.
HSV-1 usually manifests as one blister or a cluster of fluid-filled blisters that are on or around the mouth. Sometimes HSV-1 symptoms include blisters in the genital area, although genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2 and spread by sexual contact. The blisters on the mouth are often itchy, tender, or painful to the touch. The blisters typically stick around for about 2 weeks, oozing, crusting over, and then drying up and healing. HSV-1 is highly contagious, usually spread through physical contact with the mouth (like kissing) or sharing things like drinking glasses, utensils, or cosmetics.
Now that you’re an expert on the causes and symptoms of herpes, it’s time to get educated on how to treat the virus when you have flare-ups. Often, your skin will get tingly or itchy before the blisters appear. Applying a cold, wet washcloth or ice in a washcloth to your skin can help with the itchiness. This can also help alleviate the itchiness and tenderness of the blisters when they appear.
There is a variety of balms and ointments you can apply to the blisters to calm your discomfort. Vaseline can help prevent cracking of the skin affected by the cold sores. The use of lemon balm and aloe vera helps with redness and swelling. You can find lemon balm either in a lip balm or in a tea to make a compress for your sores. Over the counter medications that contain docosanol or benzyl alcohol may be helpful in causing the cold sore to heal more quickly. Some people have found witch hazel to be effective in drying up the cold sore due to its astringent properties.
If you have shingles, some other ways to relieve the itchiness is to apply calamine lotion or to take a colloidal oatmeal bath.
Certain medications provide relief from some of the symptoms of herpes. If your blisters or shingles rash are particularly painful, taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen will ease the pain. Taking these over-the-counter medications can also help reduce the fever and achiness that some people experience with their first outbreak of cold sores. There are also some prescription antiviral medications that help if your symptoms are more severe. These medications include valacyclovir (Valtrex), acyclovir (Zovirax), and famciclovir (Famvir).
When you have an outbreak of blisters, it’s important to allow the area to heal as quickly as possible. So, don’t pick at the blisters or rash. This can further irritate your skin or introduce more bacteria. You should also wash your hands often, both to help keep your skin free from infection and to prevent spreading the infection to other people.
The best way to treat the herpes virus is to take measures to prevent flare-ups. Outbreaks are often brought on by stress or other illness. No one is free from stress, but you can take measures to cope well, such as meditation, exercise, and rest. You should also avoid getting sick by getting good rest, eating well, and being careful around others who are sick. For some people, prolonged sun exposure can bring on flare-ups, so use sunscreen lip balm and sunscreen to protect the skin on your face and lips.
For more information on how to treat your herpes virus, contact Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The experienced dermatologists at Vanguard will work with you to create a treatment plan that provides significant relief for your herpes symptoms.