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All About Cold Sores

A cold sore is a blister that usually forms on or around the lips as a result of infection with the herpes simplex virus, HSV-1.  Unlike canker sores, cold sores almost never occur inside the mouth and are not associated with gum disease.  The HSV-1 infection is usually contracted early in childhood and may not result in a visible cold sore outbreak.  The virus will stay “asleep” until the secondary infection.

During a cold sore breakout, the virus “wakes up” and infects the skin cells in or around your lips or mouth, eventually becoming a visible and contagious cold sore.  Outbreaks often occur after you have experienced a cold sore trigger:

  • Fatigue or Stress: Both fatigue and stress can weaken your immune system, making you susceptible to  a cold sore outbreak.  So relax.  Exercise.  Sleep.
  • Cold Weather: Protect your lips from the cold with a scarf or collar.  Also be sure to use lip protectant to keep lips moisturized.
  • Excessive Sunlight: Not only do UV rays from the sun damage your skin; sun exposure can also trigger cold sores.  Fight back by using an SPF lip balm year round.
  • Hormonal Changes: For women, hormonal changes during the menstruation cycle can trigger an outbreak.  Pay attention to your cycle to manage stress.
  • Lip or Mouth Injury: Trauma to your mouth or lips (could be an injury or as simple as a dental procedure) can launch a cold sore.  If this is your trigger, make sure to alert your dentist and hygienist ahead of time.
  • Weakened Immune System: A fever, cold or the flu can leave you run-down and on the defense against a cold sore.  When you feel a cold, fever or flu coming on, get plenty of rest and fluids.

Cold sores typically last for seven to 10 days, after which the blisters will rupture and ooze.  Most cold sores will resolve without treatment, but you can apply a topical medication to relieve pain, itching and shorten healing time.  If your cold sore is extremely painful, you may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to get some relief.  Avoid picking or squeezing the sore.  Please ask us for a cold sore product recommendation.