What is a cold sore and how do I know if I have one?
Cold sores are small fluid-filled blisters that most commonly develop on the lips or around the mouth. However, in rare cases, cold sores can appear on the face and nose. The small fluid-filled blisters can be unsightly, uncomfortable and can form a yellow crust or scab(1). The first symptom often noticed when a cold sore is developing is a tingling, itching and burning sensation, which is then followed by redness and the formation of a sore(2). According to the NHS, ‘some people have frequently recurring cold sores around two or three times a year, while others have one cold sore and never have another. Some people never get cold sores at all because the virus never becomes active.’(3)
What causes cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by a virus known as Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV-1). When someone is infected, the virus travels to local sensory nerves and lies dormant until reactivation(4). The virus resides in the nerves, which explains the sensations you may feel, ranging from tingling to severe pain, during a cold sore outbreak.
How long do cold sores last?
The length of a cold sore outbreak varies and often the first cold sore you experience will be the most severe. On average, cold sores last between seven and 10 days but this can be as long as 14 days. Following an outbreak, the herpes simplex virus will return to its dormant state in the body. In the vast majority of cases, the sore will heal without scarring and the majority of people find that recurrent outbreaks are less severe and infrequent, if they occur at all.
Is there any way to prevent the recurrence of a cold sore?
Although not entirely preventable, there are certain things that you can do that may help to reduce the number of recurrent cold sore outbreaks. Stress, lip damage and tiredness are common triggers so the following tips may help:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle and get plenty of sleep to avoid getting run down
- Try to reduce stress where possible
- Keep your lips in good condition by using a moisturising lip treatment
When is a cold sore contagious?
Cold sores are contagious throughout an outbreak until they are completely healed. However, cold sores are at their most contagious when the fluid-filled blisters burst, so be extra careful to avoid close skin-to-skin contact with people until the sores are completely healed.
Who is most vulnerable to cold sore infection?
56-85 percent of people carry the cold sore virus.(5) Most people who carry the virus were exposed to it at an early age.(6) Due to the high proportion of people that carry the virus, it is very likely that you will also encounter it in your lifetime.
It is very important that if the virus is reactivated and you experience an outbreak, you avoid close contact with people who are more susceptible to infections, such as new born babies and those with suppressed immune systems e.g. people undergoing chemotherapy.
How can I keep my lips healthy?
The skin on your lips is four to five times thinner than the skin covering the rest of your body(7)—so lips are delicate and more likely to split or chap. Therefore, doing what you can to help keep lips healthy and protected from damage is important.
Diet can also contribute to your lip health. Vegetables such as spinach, Swiss chard and green beans are great sources of niacin (vitamin B), which can boost the skin’s ability to retain moisture.
Protecting your lips from environmental factors such as wind and cold by wearing a scarf or hat can help prevent your lips from drying and cracking. Keeping them hydrated and moisturised is also key, so make sure you apply an effective lip treatment as necessary.
Why does licking your lips make them dry?
Licking your lips continuously may provide temporary relief for sore lips but saliva evaporates quickly, leaving the lips even drier than they were before. The digestive enzymes found in saliva can damage the skin even further so why not try applying a moisturising lip product next time you’re tempted to lick your lips.
What should I look for in a lip balm/treatment to help prevent/heal cold sores?
One of the best ways to help avoid dry lips and cold sores is to replace any lost moisture. Products containing humectant (moisture-retaining) ingredients are good for this and can help to protect lips from drying environmental irritants (e.g. extremes of temperature, wind, sun). When choosing a lip balm, look out for those with a paraffin, petroleum or beeswax base, such as Prevasore Everyday Lip Therapy, as these ingredients help to seal in moisture and don’t evaporate quickly.
Prevasore Everyday Lip Therapy helps to keep your lips healthy and feeling great. Its unique formulation is designed to increase moisture retention, helping to keep lips soft, protected and cold sore free.