If you've ever had a cold sore, a painful, red blister on your lip or around your mouth, there's probably only one question you're asking: how can I get rid of this cold sore quickly?
Fortunately, there are some ways you can decrease the amount of time you live with a cold sore. There are even some ways to decrease your chance of developing cold sores in the future.
Read on to know what cold sores are, why they develop and how to treat them.
What is a cold sore?
Also called a fever blister or cold sores, a cold sore is a sore (also called a vesicle) that looks like a blister or a group of blisters with a red base, says Dr. Christina Gasbarro, Mercy's primary care physician Medical Staff in Overlea near Baltimore. "Eventually they start to dry and may look a little yellow and crispy," he explains.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. However, this is not the same as the sexually transmitted herpes virus. In fact, more than half of adults ages 14 to 49 have the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. This is because we were probably exposed to him when we were children or young adults. Many of us have the virus, but it remains dormant or silent in our bodies. Sometimes the virus reactivates, which leads to the development of a cold sore.
(Read: 9 ways to detect skin cancer before it kills).
"Most people have been exposed (to the herpes simplex virus), but only a fraction develops cold sores," says Dr. Sonoa Au, a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery in New York and New Jersey.
It is not always clear why some people with the virus have outbreaks of cold sores and others with the virus never develop them.
There are several reasons why the herpes simplex virus can cause an outbreak of cold sores:
– Contact with someone who has a contagious cold sore.
– Surgery or minor trauma near the lip area.
— Cold weather.
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– Direct and intense sun exposure.
— To get sick. "I joke with patients who say Mother Nature kicks you when you're depressed," says Dr. Esther Freeman, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston and director of Global Health Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital .
– For women, be in your period.
– He hasn't slept enough.
It could even be a combination of these factors that reactivates the virus that causes cold sores.
Cold sores have nothing to be ashamed of, and they are generally not serious. However, there is a period of three to seven days during which they are contagious.
If you are in contact with someone who has cold sores, there are some ways to get the virus:
– kisses It doesn't have to be an intimate kiss; It could even be a short kiss to greet a relative.
– Share utensils or cups.
– Share personal hygiene items such as lip balm, a razor or a towel.
Cold sores are often confused with some other skin problems, including:
– A bacterial infection.
– Cracked lips.
– Mouth ulcers. These are small ulcers inside the mouth, but they are not infectious.
— Skin cancer.
However, some symptoms can help distinguish a cold sore from these other health problems. In addition to the common appearance of a cold sore, other symptoms you may experience are itching and a tingling or itching sensation just before cold sores arise. That is actually the moment when treatment should begin.
(SEE: Eat for your skin.)
How to treat cold sores quickly
Without treatment, a cold sore can last for one to three weeks, says Gasbarro. The best ways to get rid of a cold sore quickly are:
– Start the treatment as soon as you feel the tingling or buzzing sensation before the cold sores even explode.
– Use two doses of a prescription oral antiviral medicine called valacyclovir for one day. (Your doctor may prescribe other oral medications that are similar to valacyclovir, including acyclovir, penciclovir, and famciclovir.) On average, the use of an oral antiviral medication can shorten the time of a cold sore from a week to three days, says Freeman. He has even seen patients who have cold sores frequently and have the medication at hand. By beginning treatment quickly, they were able to prevent the full development of a cold sore. Of course, everyone's case is a little different. Even if you start taking antivirals after cold sores appear, treatment can help shorten the time you will have it.
Another option is acyclovir prescription topical cream. This can be used if you can't or don't want to take oral medications, says Freeman. Oral antivirals are even more effective.
Another possible treatment is over-the-counter topical medications. A popular cream is called 10% docosanol, which is sold under the brand Abreva. Using this as soon as a cold sore appears may shorten the amount of time you have it, but it is not as effective as oral prescription medications. If you use a cream, you can apply it with a clean cotton swab, the ADF recommends.
The application of petroleum jelly to cold sores and surrounding skin can help the skin dry out too much, which can help it heal faster, explains the ADF.
If you have pain or fever from a cold sore, you can use common pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Having a fever is more common with your first outbreak of cold sores. These types of medications only help control pain or fever; They will not help herpes labialis disappear. Putting a cold compress on the area of cold sores can also help with the pain.
There are some home remedies that some people try when they have cold sores. These include aloe vera gel, lemon balm or witch hazel. These can help with any discomfort, but they won't eliminate your cold sores quickly, says Freeman.
(READ: Patient's guide to skin diseases.)
Although you have cold sores, it will remain contagious until a scab forms, reports the ADF. Be sure to take precautions when you have cold sores:
– Do not touch or burst your cold sores.
– Avoid close facial contact with other people, especially babies.
– Do not share personal hygiene items, food, utensils or cups.
– Wash your hands frequently, even after applying the medicine.
When to see a doctor for cold sores
Cold sores are not usually serious. You usually do not need to see a doctor unless you need to get prescription medications. Otherwise, there are some occasions when you will want to see your primary care doctor or a dermatologist for cold sores:
– It lasted more than two or three weeks.
– There are extensive blisters.
– You have recurrent cold sores that bothers you. "Doctors can prescribe a suppressive dose of an antiviral medication for people with frequent recurrences," says Au. In this situation, you can fill a prescription of valacyclovir orally and have it on hand the next time a cold sore appears. Or, if you receive them very often, you can even use a daily preventive dose of medication.
– You have sores that extend near the eyes or eye irritation caused by the sores. Consult an ophthalmologist immediately if this occurs because the herpes simplex virus that affects the eyes has the potential to cause permanent damage, warns Au.
Although there is no infallible way to avoid a future outbreak, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances:
– Get enough sleep.
– Work to reduce your stress.
– When you go out in the sun, use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 on the face and lips.
Vanessa Caceres He began writing for U.S. News in 2017, originally specializing in diabetes. She is a nationwide health, travel and food writer with a bachelor's degree in journalism and psychology from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and a bachelor's degree in linguistics / bilingual education from Georgetown University in Washington, DC In addition to US News , Vanessa & # 39; s health This article has been published with Everyday Health, Self, Newsday HealthLink, EyeWorld, The Rheumatologist and several other publications. He is a member of Business Networking International (BNI). Connect with her on Twitter at @FloridaCulture.