Anyone who has ever had a cold sore knows they can be as embarrassing as they are uncomfortable. A contagious infection caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), cold sores are fluid-filled lesions that can last for a week or longer.
Cold sores usually appear near the mouth: on the lips, chin, and cheeks. Sometimes they show up in the nostrils or on the roof of the mouth or the gums.
Signs and symptoms may not show up for 1 to 3 weeks after exposure to the HSV and include:
- Small, fluid-filled red blisters, usually near the mouth
- Pain, tingling, or burning around the mouth or nose before a blister appears
- Itching or sensitivity at the site before a cold sore appears
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Oozing blisters, which then form a yellow crust that eventually sloughs off to reveal pink skin underneath.
HSV can be passed along by skin-to-skin contact and is highly contagious. The risk of infection is greatest from the time the blisters appear until they’ve completely dried and crusted over. However, the virus can still be spread, even after the skin has healed.
Once you’ve had an episode of HSV, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells of your skin and can appear again at or near the original location. Fever, menstruation, stress, fatigue, and sun exposure can all trigger a recurrence.
Avoid kissing someone with visible sores, sharing personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, towels, or lip balm, and sharing drinking glasses or utensils… if you prefer to be cold sore free! Washing your hands hands frequently and thoroughly can also help prevent infection.
Although cold sores can’t be cured, there are many things you can do to help ease discomfort and speed healing:
- Apply tea tree oil, which has been shown to have antimicrobial activity against the herpes simplex virus. It can be applied full strength or diluted, or via a creme or ointment.
- Apply ice or warm compresses to the blisters to diminish pain.
- At the first sign of a break-out, take 1,000 to 1,500 mg of the amino acid lysine daily. Foods high in lysine include fish, chicken, beef, lamb, milk, cheese, beans, brewer’s yeast, and most fruits and vegetables. Avoid food high in arginine such as chocolate, coconut, oats, whole wheat and white flour, peanuts and soybeans, which can aid the growth and reproduction of the herpes virus.
- Let blisters heal: avoid squeezing or picking at them.
- Get plenty of rest and reduce stress.