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Life can be stopped in its tracks by a cold sore. If you do not suffer from them, consider yourself insanely lucky; it is estimated that around fifty to eighty percent of middle aged humans have cold sores and that up to ninety percent will be infected by the time they turn fifty years old.
Cold sores are simply a part of everyday life for over half of the population but, despite this fact, they are still quite embarrassing and uncomfortable. There are numerous different treatment plans that claim to help soothe the symptoms of an outbreak and shorten the duration of the sores but what actually works?
What Exactly Is a Cold Sore?
In order to treat something, you must first understand what it is. A cold sore is simply a blister caused by a flare of the herpes virus. The strain of herpes that causes cold sores is not the same as the one that causes genital herpes; just because you have one does not mean you have the other.
The herpes virus is incredibly easy to spread and most people come into contact with it without ever realizing it due to drinking from water fountains, sharing makeup, or other common social interactions like kissing.
Once you have cold sores, you will have them for life. The virus will never completely go away and can resurface at any time; most treatments simply make the sores less invasive and uncomfortable.
In general, cold sores appear as blisters under the skin on your lips or near your mouth. They can be quite large and may burst, ooze, or crust over. Sometimes, they even bleed. Cold sores are quite painful and can cause other symptoms like headaches, fevers, and body aches, as well. Before a cold sore appears, you may feel a tingling or itching sensation in the spot where the bump will present itself.
This itching can last for days or weeks before the bump appears, if it does at all. After the bump makes itself known, it will last for around seven to ten days on average, though this timeline varies from person to person. They usually heal on their own without any intervention but you can take steps to help them go away sooner.
The best form of treatment you can try is a prescribed antiviral medication. Doctors prescribe both topical creams and oral medications. The topicals are used when an outbreak happens to shrink the blister and help it heal. Oral medications can be used in the same way or are prescribed to be taken daily to prevent outbreaks all together.
Some examples of these medications are Acyclovir, Famciclovir, and Valacyclovir. All of these medications require a doctor’s approval; if you think they may be beneficial to your symptoms, do your research and bring them up to your doctor at your next appointment.
If prescribed medications are not your preferred choice, there are also many commercial over the counter options out there that can easily be scooped up at your local drug store or supermarket. Abreva contains the active ingredient Docosanol and is said to help kick a cold sore in around two and a half days if taken at the first signs of a flare.
Similarly, Herpecin L is a popular choice due to its many different application options, which range from creams to lip balm like tubes that are easy for on the go treatment. There are dozens upon dozens of over the counter treatments out there with new options popping up every single day.
Many people recommend lemon balm as a natural alternative to the commercially marketed choices. A member of the mint family, lemon balm is believed to have anti inflammatory properties. It is supposed to help treat the redness and scabbing associated with the flare when applied regularly in a lip balm form.
Many people also utilize a compress made of lemon balm tea and consume said tea regularly to prevent future outbreaks. Many of the recommended treatments are highly controversial aside from the medication routes because they are arguably ineffective for large groups of people; research further into alternative treatments and figure out what would best suit your symptoms.
If all else fails, reach out to your doctor for medication advice.
What Not to Do?
Try not to drink anything hot and dodge dining on spicy, salty, or acidic foods. All of these will irritate the blisters and cause the outbreak to last longer. Pickles, chips, curry, and wings are all massive no-gos when a cold sore has made its way onto your face. Additionally, hot cocoa and coffee can irritate the area as well.
Try blander foods to give yourself time to heal. Oh, and do not forget to avoid alcohol! It slows down your immune system and can delay healing timelines severely.
Do not touch or pick at your cold sore. The goal is to keep it as clean as possible to prevent it from becoming more inflamed. Additionally, touching it may cause it to spread to other areas of your mouth, especially if it is oozing.
Picking and prodding the bump is doing your skin no favors since such actions only serve to further irritate the area and delay healing.
Cold sores are nothing more than a minor annoyance that can present itself in a pretty big way. Uncomfortable and invasive, the blisters can be a real pain to get rid of. The best course of action is to seek medical intervention via prescriptions or over the counter treatments, as many natural or alternative methods have mixed results. Good luck!