Avoid Causes And Shorten Cold Sore Outbreaks
You probably have heard by now that the cold sores on your lip are a form of herpes. This is true. While classically not associated with the same strain that causes genital herpes, there are ever increasing rates of crossover infections. In the interest of clarity, I am focusing on lip cold sores today; some people refer to them as fever blisters.
The Herpes Virus
Cold sore herpes is a virus that is almost ubiquitous throughout humankind. We are its only natural reservoir. The CDC states that cold sores are common in adults and affect about 19 percent of those aged 25 to 44 years. Worldwide it is estimated that 90 percent of 20 to 40-year-olds have been exposed. Thus, it is statistically unusual for a human to go through life without encountering herpes. The infection has been known since antiquity. The word “herpes” was defined by Greek scholars as “to crawl or creep,” as the infection appears to do. They have been so common as to earn mention in Romeo and Juliet and were considered a vocational disease of prostitutes by the French government.
Cold sore herpes is the gift that keeps on giving. There is currently no definitive cure of herpes infections and you are infected for life. The initial infection usually doesn’t have any symptoms. Often it is acquired during childhood and manifests, if at all, by vague mouth or throat symptoms. Recurrent infections are much more emboldened and set up camp right on your lip for the whole world to see. These recurrent outbreaks are the classic cold sore.
Like so many other infections we humans chronically harbor, it is not the virus but our own immune system’s reaction to it that contributes to our misery. Thus I usually recommend a little over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream in addition to whatever treatment the patient chooses.
Cold Sore Treatments And Remedies
The treatments and home remedies for cold sores are numerous — and often amusing. When something only lasts a short time, any number of interventions will anecdotally appear to successfully treat it. Many people will put Blistex or Carmex on the sore. I think all it accomplishes is to make the cold sore shiny and draw unwanted attention to it. Lysine is also popular but lacks convincing data in my opinion. And, of course, there are men out there in our area dabbing bleach or kerosene on there lips.
Abreva is a very popular and heavily advertised remedy available without a prescription. If shortening the outbreak an average of 4.1 days is worth $15 to $20 to you, then it is your go-to product. Remember, that despite the claims of “curing” a cold sore, it potentially only helps it resolve faster. You are still infected, contagious, and likely to get another one on down the road. Abreva is the only over-the-counter medication approved by the FDA that is proven to shorten healing time. The company’s website has an amusing diagram that shows its effectiveness over a host of other products that would have no basis to work in the first place.
The older antiviral oral medications prescribed by doctors often required you to remember to swallow a horse pill three to four times a day. The newer treatments can be as short as a day if you can get to your pills before the outbreak peaks.
Since sunlight suppresses the skin’s immune system, it is one of the leading causes of cold sore outbreaks. Make sure you have a good lip sunscreen especially if you are headed into the mountains this winter. Nothing ruins a good ski trip like a pesky cold sore. Stress, medications and injury to your lips also commonly cause outbreaks.
So while oral herpes is not as stigmatized as genital herpes, it is still a lifelong painful infection. So please watch out with whom who you share your drink at the movie and don’t stare at that cold sore on your friend’s lip … They already know it’s there.