I think many of you’ll agree that when it comes to skin ailments that are visible to others your vanity is often at risk. I have countless patients who are even embarrassed to come to my office with visible signs of cold sores, canker sores, and oral herpes.
But sometimes it’s necessary to get the proper treatment when prevention doesn’t work.
When it comes to cold sores it usually starts with a gentle tingling or burning sensation under the skin around the lips or nose. Next thing you know, blisters erupt from the skin and turn a painful-looking red color. The blisters themselves hurt. And they’re unsightly—they dry out and turn brown or yellow and crusty looking.
If you suffer from periodic outbreaks of cold sores, you know it’s no picnic.
Roughly 100 million cold sore infections happen to people every year, all over the U.S. Almost everyone has been exposed to the virus responsible, a non-genital form of the herpes virus. But some people tend to suffer outbreaks more, even as often as once a month.
The good news is: most of the time these outbreaks are only temporary.
When you’re exposed to the virus that leads to cold sores—and most of us are during our childhood—the virus can take up residence in your nerve cells. When it does, it can flare up periodically. Stress, an infection, sunburn, or even your menstrual cycles can trigger a cold sore outbreak.
Prevention is Your Best Ally!
To date, there is no cure for the virus that causes cold sores. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to outbreaks. You can take steps to prevent outbreaks and to shorten any cold sore occurrences.
To prevent cold sores, start by identifying your triggers. If stress causes a cold sore to form, look for new ways to cope with stress. You might try yoga, vigorous exercise, deep breathing exercises or meditation.
If sunburn is one of your triggers, use a lip balm that contains sunscreen, or wear a broad-brimmed hat that will provide some shade to your lips. Also avoid contact with towels, cups, razors or other items that someone with a cold sore may have used.
The first sign of a cold sore is often a tingling sensation that lasts for a couple of hours before the blisters begin to form. When the tingling that precedes a cold sore starts, it’s time to act. Swab the area with either tea tree oil or lavender oil. In some cases, this will prevent the cold sore from erupting.
If a cold sore does erupt, you can do a number of things to shorten the duration of the cold sore:
– Creams containing zinc oxide and glycine can reduce the number of days it takes a cold sore to heal down to five. By comparison, untreated cold sore outbreaks can take 10 or more days to heal.
– Vitamin C promotes healing and fights inflammations. It can reduce the pain and swelling of a cold sore and help the area to heal faster.
– In lab tests, the amino acid lysine prevents the growth of the herpes virus. Clinical test results aren’t available yet, but there is anecdotal evidence that taking lysine during an outbreak can shorten its duration.
Even though you can’t cure the virus that causes cold sore outbreaks, armed with the right information, you can take steps to reduce the number of outbreaks you have to endure and to reduce the duration of any outbreaks that do occur.
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
Photo Credit: myhousecallmd.com