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Everything You’ve Wanted to Ask About Cold Sores (But Have Been to Embarrassed to Actually Say)

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When life gives you lemons, be glad it didn’t give you a cold sore. If life gives you lemons and a cold sore, that’s an even more unfortunate mix, and that is going to sting. I’ve noticed that customers tend to feel an inexplicable level of shame when sporting a cold sore.

They don’t ask questions, hoping to buy the first cream they see, and get out before anyone sees them. Perhaps mask-wearing in a post COVID world will make this a little less humiliating? Either way, the wonderful thing about being an online chemist is that you can get answers to these questions without feeling stigmatised. Here are the questions most people want to ask, but are just too embarrassed to say out loud.

So… what is this thing on my lip?

It’s a virus. More specifically, a strain of the herpes virus. It usually sits on the bottom lip and looks like a blister or graze. They are tiny, fluid-filled blisters on and around your lips. These blisters are often grouped together in patches. After the blisters break, a scab forms that can last several days.

Cold sores usually heal in two to three weeks without leaving a scar.  As mentioned, most people feel a little uncomfortable, but there is really no need. NSW Health estimates that three quarters of Australians have been infected with this disease at some point.

Is there any danger to a cold sore?

In general, no. It may feel dangerous to your social life, but there is little risk to your greater health. They do not even generally affect the skin around your mouth and lips in any long term capacity, so you have nothing to worry about in terms of scarring. It is important that you would avoid picking at it when it scabs over, or trying to burst the blister.

This can lead to a secondary infection which could eventuate into further health concerns. If they begin to appear in other places on your body, if it lasts longer than two weeks, or if you have a compromised immune system, you should seek the advice of a medical professional.

How do I cure it?

Well, without wishing to sound defeatist, you don’t get cured in a conventional sense. The virus will be forever in your system. This is not the bad news you think it is. The cold sore itself will not be permanently plastered to your lower lip. Some people may get a cold sore 2-3 times a year, while other people might have one once and never again. It is nature’s lottery. Having said that, there are things you can do to shorten the duration of your cold sore.

I will often recommend a cold sore cream to my regulars. Something like a zovirax cold sore cream can cut the healing time in half, while preventing a sore from developing into a full blown blister. It works by stopping the herpes simplex virus from multiplying and infecting more cells. This brings the infection under control and helps the immune system to deal with it. It is safe for adults and children, and there are no adverse effects if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Is there any way I can avoid them showing up?

Yes, you can be on the front foot here. Paradoxically, cold sores show up in extremely cold and hot weather. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. When the winter months come around, you can protect yourself by wearing scarves or hoodies, anything to keep your face from becoming cold and dried out.

Similarly, in the summer, you need to avoid getting excessive sun exposure as this will do the same thing: dry you out and make you break out. Also, like many afflictions like acne, or hives, cold sores can be the result of excessive stress. I feel like this is another cruel irony of life. Stop stressing otherwise you might get a cold sore. It doesn’t exactly take the pressure off does it?

Should I be worried about passing this on?

Yes, sadly it is highly contagious. Technically, it can be passed on even when the blisters are not present, but it becomes much more likely to transmit when they are. If you have a cold sore, you should avoid contact with others. It doesn’t just pass from facial contact, so even if you avoid kissing, you might have touched your lips, and then shaken hands with someone who will go on to touch their face at some point.

Caution is the name of the game at this point. Wash your hands frequently. If you are around someone with a cold sore, wash your hands frequently. It is your best defence!

Are cold sores and herpes the same thing?

In a way, yes. Both cold sores and genital herpes are caused by two related strains of the herpes simple virus. HSV-1 causes cold sores (I generally avoid the term oral herpes for obvious reasons, but in a medical sense, this is the most accurate term) and genital herpes is caused by HSV-2.

In my vast experience, it is better to play down that link because people can be quite cruel when a person is perceived to have ‘face herpes’…

Can this make the leap from being on my face to becoming an STI?

Sadly, oral herpes can become genital herpes if contact is made, so it is always safest to take a cold shower rather than risking anything in sexual activity. 

Is there a special layer in hell for cold sores?

Yes. I believe so.

So there you have it. Everything you have wanted to ask about cold sores but have been too embarrassed to ask. I hope this gives you some peace of mind, but as always, if you are concerned, consult a health professional. Your health is too important to take risks.

Yours in health,

Floyd