Cold Sores: Causes, Treatment And Contagion

Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex): How To Catch, Causes, Treatment, Triggers, Flare Ups, STD?

The cold sore, or herpes labialis, is a viral skin disorder which appears on the lip. Whilst they are benign they can nevertheless be debilitating. What remedies and treatments exist for the cold sore?

What Is A Cold Sore?

The cold sore, or herpes labialis, is a cutaneous condition that appears on the lips. It is characterized by the appearance of a cluster of cysts. The cold sore is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This is a common and recurrent pathology. It is estimated that between 50% and 90% of the world population has already been infected with the virus. The first infection with HSV-1 is usually during childhood. The virus then remains silent in the body and goes unnoticed. It is when reactivated that the herpes labialis appears.

Cold Sore Symptoms

The first cold sore crisis is almost always asymptomatic. The reactivation of the virus causes the appearance of a spot on the lip. There is also an eruption of small, painful vesicles filled with fluid. When they break, they give way to a crust. Precursory signs can predict a rash:

- itching

- tingling

- feeling hot

swelling of the lips

- a slight fever

The symptoms disappear naturally after 7 to 10 days without a trace. However, there is a high risk of cold sores reappearing.

Causes Of A Cold Sore

Many factors can lead to a new cold sore:

- exposure to cold or sun

high stress

- high fever

menstruation

- an infectious disease

HSV-1 Transmission 

The HSV-1 virus is extremely contagious, especially when the vesicles have burst. Transmission can then be through direct or indirect contact via contaminated objects. The incubation period is between 1 and 6 days. In some cases, the virus can spread to other parts of the body, such as the inside of the mouth or the eyes, causing herpetic gingivostomatitis or conjunctivitis. It is therefore important to respect certain hygiene rules in case of recurrence in order to limit the spread of the virus: do not touch lesions, do not share potentially contaminated objects (glass, toothbrush, towel) and avoid intimate contact.

Treatment: How To Treat A Cold Sore?

As the symptoms of cold sores disappear spontaneously after a few days, treatment is not mandatory. It is nevertheless possible to limit the disabling effects by applying anaesthetic cream to the affected area. This can be used alongside an antiviral cream that blocks the multiplication of the virus. To help relieve pain, it is advisable to apply an ice pack to the sore several times a day and to always moisturize the lips. In the event of a large number of recurrences (more than six outbreaks of cold sores per year), oral antiviral treatment may also be prescribed.

• Emma Jensen