Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex, Type 1)

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Cold Sores

(Herpes Simplex, Type 1)

What is a Cold Sore?

A Cold Sore is a little blister which forms on the skin usually around the mouth or nose.  Several blisters often occur together in a cluster, may feel itchy, cause sureness and irritation, but usually only last for about a week.  They may be associated with feverishness and sickness.

Cold Sores are very common but are generally irritating rather than dangerous.  They are highly contagious and are usually spread by direct contact with the blisters or with the fluid inside them.

What Cause Cold Sore?

Cold Sores are caused by a particular strain of the herpes simplex virus type one (HSV1) the great majority of people have been exposed to this virus by the time they reach the age of five.  Most people succeed in developing a natural immunity to the virus, which means they never suffer from cold sores.

In some people, however, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells, and can be reactivated by certain triggers, such as the common cold, influenza, strong sunshine, cold wind, stress, or being generally run down. Certain women are particularly susceptible to cold sores at the time of their menstrual period.

It is possible, though rare, for the Cold Sore virus to infect the fingers, causing an outbreak of painful blisters (herpitic whitlow).  In a person who has a problem with dermatitis, there is a possibility that the virus could cause a widespread rash of blisters (eczema herpeticum).

How is Cold Sore Diagnosed and Treated?

A Cold Sore is seen as a group of tiny, inflamed blisters, which fill with a pale yellow fluid and feel itchy, hot and sore.  The blisters usually break open within a few days, and then become encrusted and dry up.

Most Cold Sores disappear on their own accord within a week or so.  However, if they are particularly troublesome, you may benefit from seeking professional medical help.

People who get recurrent attacks soon learn to recognize the warning sign: a sudden tingling sensation, which can begin up to two days before the cold sore actually appears.

When Should I See my Doctor?

See your doctor if a cold sore is particularly troublesome or if you get recurrent attacks.  The earlier you receive treatment during an attack the better.

What will the Doctor Do?

The doctor will probably prescribe the drug acyclovir, which is available in the form of either tablets or a cream.  This drug has an anti-viral action and can reduce the pain as well as speeding up the healing process.  The doctor may also prescribe painkillers and recommend bathing the affected area with a weak salt solution (1/2 tsp of salt to a ½ litre of water).

What Can I do to Avoid Cold Sores?

There is no effective preventative treatment for Cold Sores, although applying lip salve before going out in the sun may help prevent an outbreak.  If you are trouble by repeated bouts of cold sores, see your doctor.

Is a Cold Sore Dangerous?

A Cold Sore is not dangerous, but it can be both unsightly and irritating.  It is also highly contagious, so you should avoid kissing anyone or sharing towels, flannels or pillowcases, while the sore is active.

Never touch a cold sore and then touch your eye, as this can cause inflammation of the surface membrane of the eye inside the eyelid (conjunctivitis) or a more serious and painful corneal ulcer in the outer layer of the eye.

In very rare cases the virus may spread to the brain, where it can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis), a potentially fatal condition.  For those with a disorder which affects their immune system (immunodeficiency disorder) such as AIDS, or who are taking drugs to suppress their immune system (immuno-suppressants), the virus can cause a life threatening infection.

However, although most people will have become infected with the Herpes Simplex Virus during childhood or soon after, the condition is mild or has no symptoms in the majority of cases.

Are there any natural remedies?

Suggestions include: □ Dab the area with diluted lemon juice at the first sign of a cold sore. □ Natural Yoghurt is soothing when applied to the sore. □ Vitamin supplements may help – but do not exceed the recommended dose. □ Help prevent further attacks by eating a whole food diet which include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

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