While cold sores and the common cold both contain the word “cold” and tend to strike at the most inopportune times, that is where the similarities end.

Cold Sores Defined

Cold sores, also referred to as fever blisters, are sores that usually appear on the lip, but may also occur on the cheeks, chin or nose. Symptoms include red, itchy, tingly, burning and irritated skin that develop into blisters that burst into weepy sores that crust over. These sores occur when the virus that resides in the nerves, reproduces and damages the skin.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV-1, that is transmitted when an infected person’s skin and bodily fluids come into contact with an uninfected person’s skin. It can be transmitted to any broken skin or mucous membrane such as the nose and genitals. It can also be spread to the eyes, which is called ocular herpes that affects the cornea and can cause blindness.

Despite two-thirds of people having the virus, it is believed that only people with a gene that governs how the virus manifests in the body will experience breakouts.

Common triggers include fever, monthly menstrual periods, stress and sunlight, as well as certain foods, cold weather, allergies, fatigue and a weak immune system.

The initial outbreak may last up to two weeks, with subsequent outbreaks lasting one to four weeks and typically recurring in the same location. Outbreaks can occur anywhere from a couple times a year up to once a month.

Cold sores are not to be confused with cankers sores that appear inside the mouth and are not viral.

How to Prevent Cold Sores

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this virus, but prevention of outbreaks is possible.

Bolstering your immune system with adequate rest and exercise and avoiding stress and sunlight can help prevent cold sores. Try stress reduction remedies, such as meditation and yoga and stay out of the sun, whenever possible, to help ward off dreaded cold stores. When sunlight cannot be avoided, use a SPF 30 lip and face sunscreen, an umbrella and wear a wide-brimmed hat.

Once you have the virus you can transfer it any time through your saliva, but you are most contagious when you start to experience the telltale itching and redness. Until your sores completely heal, it is vital to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your mouth, and sharing kisses, toothbrushes, utensils, or beverage glasses.

How to Treat Cold Sores

Using topical creams and oral anti-viral medications when the first symptoms appear can speed up the healing of an outbreak. Creams include over the counter docosanol, or your family dentist can prescribe Zovirax (acyclovir) and Denavir (penciclovir). Oral antiviral prescriptions like acyclovir or Valtrex (valacyclovir) are also helpful, however, some sufferers prefer single dose medications Famvir (famicylovir) or Sitavig (acyclovir buccal).

New Look Dental also offers the diode sol laser to treat herpetic lesions. If you call our dental office when the tingling first occurs, we can help prevent the outbreak from occurring, or lessen the severity. The laser also reduces the pain involved with cold sore outbreaks and speeds the healing time by stimulating collagen and reducing the viral particles. The resulting breakouts are usually smaller, less frequent and often don’t reoccur in the same location.

To further alleviate the discomfort, you may apply hot or cold compresses and over the counter pain relieving creams and gels.