Dr. Joel Schlessinger discusses an article about cold sores

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores. In this blog entry, Dr. Schlessinger shares an article from HealthDay.com called “Many Americans Under 50 Living With Cold Sore Virus,” as well as helpful treatment advice.

Dr. Joel Schlessinger explains cold sores.

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, appear as small, fluid-filled blisters on and around the mouth. Tingling, itching or burning typically occurs in the general area a sore will form before a hard, painful blister appears. Usually grouped together in clusters, these blisters may break and form a crust and subsequent sore. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, a highly contagious virus that, once contracted, remains in the body even when there are no active or visible sores present. While symptoms that arise from the herpes simplex virus are treatable, there is currently no cure.

The herpes virus is transmitted between individuals through close contact, such as kissing and sharing drinking glasses and food utensils. Cold sores remain contagious at every stage, so the virus may also be spread through contact with hands that have recently touched a weeping sore.

Sores may appear just once in an individual’s lifetime when they initially come into contact with the virus, or they may be reoccurring. An initial cold sore outbreak may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as headache, joint pain, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and fever. These symptoms should not occur again during subsequent reoccurrences.  Factors known to trigger cold sores include illnesses such as the common cold or the flu, hormonal fluctuations, stress and fatigue, prolonged sun exposure and trauma to the skin from things like shaving, dental work or surgery.

Address cold sores when initial tingling occurs, says Dr. Joel Schlessinger.

Fortunately, most cold sores go away on their own without scarring. However, healing could take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on an individual’s immune system and the severity of the sore. There are a few things you can do to make the healing process go more smoothly. As with any illness or condition, addressing the issue early on it the best way to ensure a less painful cold sore and a quicker recovery.

Dr. Schlessinger and other dermatologists recommend applying an over-the-counter antiviral cream or ointment like Abreva at the first sign of tingling, before a cold sore has even appeared. Abreva is FDA-approved to shorten healing time to as little as two and a half days and block the virus that causes cold sores, protecting healthy cells.  Ibuprofen can help with any pain you might experience, and applying a cool, wet towel to the sore for up to 10 minutes at a time can help soothe the area.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests avoiding highly acidic foods such as fruit juices and tomatoes to keep from irritating or exacerbating sores. Avoid spreading cold sores by abstaining from kissing and all other intimate contact, and by not sharing towels, food utensils, toothbrushes and drinking glasses.

If you find yourself suffering from frequent and/or severe cold sores, it’s time to see a doctor. There are several prescription antiviral medications available that can help alleviate pain and expedite healing time. One of the most commonly prescribed medications for cold sores is Valtrex, an oral medication that helps fight the virus responsible for cold sores, as well as the virus that causes chicken pox in children and shingles in adults. Valtrex works best at the first sign of an outbreak, and it may also be taken regularly or semi-regularly for prevention even when no cold sores are present. Taking anti-viral medication for prevention purposes is called a prophylactic treatment regimen, and your physician should be able to recommend a course of medication that is best suited for your unique needs.

Do you have a question for Dr. Schlessinger about cold sores? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted Friday, May 22nd, 2015 at 4:59 pm
Filed Under Category: Uncategorized
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