CHICAGO October 21, 2012 - Imagine you are meeting your partner’s parents for the first time and want to make a good impression. Because it is a holiday, other relatives of your partner will be there as well. You are feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement.
The morning of the big day you are horrified to discover that overnight you sprouted two cold sores. One is on the top lip, and one below it on the lower lip. By the time you meet your future in-laws all anyone will notice are the humongous red, fluid-filled blisters ballooning on your mouth.
Anyone who has cold sores will tell you that they often show up when you hope to look your best. Doctors say this is owed to stress, but some of us suspect the virus knows when its appearance will be the most annoying.
Cold sore basics:
Once someone catches the herpes simplex virus, it is with them for life. It can erupt into a cold sore (fever blister) at any time, particularly in times of stress. Some people develop a fever, head, or muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, or maybe a sore throat in tandem with their cold sore.
Typically, herpes simplex virus type-one is responsible for sores on the mouth or face. Herpes simplex type-two causes genital sores. It is possible though for each herpes type to show up as sores in the other type’s territory.
About 90% of the world’s adults test positive for herpes simplex type-one and many never develop blisters. Once an outbreak occurs the virus hibernates in the skin’s nerve cells until another eruption is triggered. The triggers might be menstruation, stress, fever, fatigue, exposure to the sun, or a weak immune system.
TIP: There is no cure for cold sores, but some people report finding relief by taking lysine as an oral supplement or using lysine cream.
Cold sores go through three gross stages:
Stage 1: People who have had one or two cold sores know that an outbreak begins with a burning or tingling feeling for one or two days prior to eruption. This is when most cold sore sufferers go into denial, hoping the sensation is just their imagination.
Stage 2: When the fluid-filled blisters appear the denial changes into a frantic attempt to keep the blisters ASAP (as small as possible). Using a lip balm with lemon extract or applying a drying agent such as alcohol may help.
Stage 3: The bouquet of blisters finally explodes like a volcano, oozes like lava, and eventually crusts over. There is pain relief when this happens but the crusted sores are a bit hideous.
Ounces of prevention:
The oozing stage of a cold sore is the most contagious, but the virus can be spread before the blister bursts via skin contact and by sharing items such as lipstick, eating utensils, or a bottle of brew.
TIP: Sharing a bowel of popcorn with someone who has an intact blister may or may not pass the virus to you but smart people will get their own bowl.
If you have a herpes outbreak, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face, eyes, or anywhere you might have skin. The herpes virus also causes conjunctivitis, or pink eye, and can spread across other areas of the body.
Unless you have access to a movie studio’s special effects department trying to hide blisters is generally futile. A doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for severe or frequent outbreaks, in hopes of speeding the healing process.
You will find a wealth of information about cold and canker sores, and other types of skin problems at Heathline.com.
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