That innocent kiss from Aunt Ida when you were a child could have transmitted the herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV-1) that is now causing that cold sore flaring on your lip. HSV-1 is highly contagious and after exposure, can remain dormant in your body until some event occurs that causes the virus to become active and cause cold sores.
Outbreaks can either be a single cold sore or a cluster of them on the skin anywhere on the face or lips. HSV-1 is a different virus than herpes simplex 2 virus (HSV-2) which is referred to as "genital herpes" but it is possible to have eruptions from either virus in either place of the body.
Infections can be occasional or recurrent triggered by stress, fatigue, sunlight or another infection, such as a cold or flu. There is no cure for the herpes virus but there are actions you can take to keep the outbreak contained and heal it faster.
What can help relieve the pain of cold sores:
1. Ice: Take an ice cube wrapped in a paper towel and rub it over the area where you feel the cold sore starting to erupt. Do this several times a day for about 5 minutes at a time. Icing works best if you use it as soon as you feel that slight tingle, stinging or swelling signaling a cold sore in the works. The ice will help relieve the pain and keep the area from becoming too swollen.
2. Medication: The FDA recently approved a new drug called Lipsovir by Medivir which is a combination of acyclovir (antiviral) and cortisone (anti-inflammatory) in a prescription cream. In clinical trials, Lipsovir prevented outbreaks of cold sores in 42% of people versus 26% in the placebo group and reduced the healing time by 1.5 days. Other acyclovir type drugs are: Denivar cream, Zovirax cream or pills, Famvir and Valtrex which are both pills.
Ask your dentist what he/she would suggest and about calling the pharmacy for a topical cream to the pharmacy. Pill versions of these acyclovir drugs have more side effects and your doctor would be the one to decide if they are appropriate for you.
3. Other creams- Abreva® (10% Docosanol) is an FDA approved over the counter cream for oral facial cold sores to help speed healing. Zinc oxide/glycine was also found to shorten the length of time of a cold sore outbreak from 6 ½ to 5 days in limited studies.
4. Home remedies- Vitamin C has been shown in a few small studies that if taken orally or used topically in liquid form can shorten the healing time of cold sores. There are some preliminary studies that show lemon balm speeds healing as well.
A cold sore lasts about 7 to 10 days. Take care not to share drinking glasses, eating utensils or kiss any one while the sore is open since HSV-1 is so contagious. It is also probably a good idea to replace your toothbrush. If you are pregnant, taking acylovir drugs should probably be avoided though discuss the pros and cons with your doctor since the FDA has classified acylovir as a category B (probably safe) drug.
You may not be able to prevent cold sores in the future, but take heart, if you are someone susceptible to frequent outbreaks, your doctor may prescribe oral anti-virals to help reduce their occurrence. A vaccine has been in the works for some time now but until then, herpes simplex 1 virus outbreaks are one uncomfortable condition most of us have to deal with.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles