Where do cold sores come from?
Although cold sores appear with your cold, they are not caused by the cold virus but an entirely different one, called Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV); to be more precise HSV-1. Many of us carry this virus, sometimes without even knowing and women are slightly more prone to this infection. Over 50 % of the population in the Western World are infected with HSV-1, in some regions of Europe even up to 80%.
Once infected, this virus is likely to stay with you the entire life. It tends to sleep in the nucleus of sensory nerve cells without causing any harm, now and then it may, however, wake up and trigger the typical blisters on the skin from where this nerve conducts sensation. This skin rash typically affects the lips and skin around mouth and nose. It is not entirely known what causes the virus to become active; fever can be a trigger hence the association to the cold and the name “fever blisters”; ultraviolet light is another cause, and both physical and emotional stress may also cause a reactivation. These blisters often start with a tingling and then become painful, they will crust over and heal without leaving a scar. They can last up to 10 days.
How did I get it in the first place?
Infection happens when you get in contact with the virus, and it can enter via breaks in your skin or mucosa. An intact skin does not let the virus though and acts as a perfect barrier. The virus itself can be found in saliva, the affected skin and even tears. Note that it is mostly transmitted from people with an activated HSV, but it can also be given to you by people who do not have any symptoms.
It is recommended that people who are experiencing a cold sore should ensure that their affected skin from touching other people or objects that could act as a mode of transfer and to refrain from exchanging saliva.
What about HSV-2
When we hear Herpes, we associated this word mostly with a sexually transmitted disease. Here HSV-2 comes into play. With the same mode of action like his upper body fellow, this virus affects the skin of the genital areas and is transmitted during sexual intercourse. Traditionally 80% of genital herpes is caused by HSV-2 and 20% by HSV-1. The incidence of HSV-1 infection in the genital area has recently increased. Especially in adolescents, this ratio has moved up to 30-40%, which is explained by increased oro-genital contact.
How to treat sold sores
Cream which contains the antiviral Acyclovir, especially if applied early in the development of cold sores, can help to reduce the duration. In other words, the pain period will be shorter, and the crusting over and healing process will happen faster. Other than that, lip balm against dry lips which often go hand in hand can give some relief.