Cold Sores

Learn what a cold sore (also known as herpes simplex) is, its causes and symptoms, and what you can do to prevent it.

What is a cold sore?

A cold sore (also known as herpes simplex) is a viral infection that attacks the skin and nervous system and, usually, produces small, irritating, and sometimes painful fluid-filled blisters on or around the mouth and nose.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex 1 (HSV 1). After the initial outbreak, the virus usually lies dormant in the skin or in nerve tissue until something triggers another eruption. Often the trigger is unknown, but in some people overexposure to sunlight, fever, physical or emotional stress, hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menstruation, or certain foods and drugs seem to reactivate the virus. Apparently this virus remains dormant, and recurrent eruptions can be caused by overexposure to sunlight, fevers, physical and emotional stress, food allergies, or drugs.

Cold sores tend to recur under unusually stressful conditions. Since chronic consumption of allergenic foods also lowers the immune function, which will encourage attacks, these foods should be eliminated when possible. All cows’ dairy products should be avoided, because they are number one on allergy food lists. Replace cow’s dairy with goat’s dairy, or try soy and rice milks. Instead of the tomato sauces, make your own pasta sauce with olive oil, garlic, and basil, adding broccoli, and goat cheese if desired. Replace with fresh juices, especially carrot. Avoid eating bread or potatoes when you eat meat as this combination will take your energy. You’ll want to have all your energy available for healing.

What are the symptoms of cold sores?

The first symptoms of a cold sore usually include burning, tingling or itching sensations around the edges of the lips or nose, and is referred to as a prodromal stage. Within a few hours, small reddened areas develop in the irritated area, followed by the formation of small blisters filled with fluid. Several small blisters may merge to form a larger one. As the blisters enlarge, they rupture and leak sticky serum-like fluid which rapidly crusts. In uncomplicated cases, the herpes attack usually runs its course in 3 weeks or less, and seldom leaves a scar.

Are cold sores contagious?

The blisters and ulcers of cold sores are filled with virus and are highly contagious until they heal, in both the initial and subsequent outbreaks. Touching a cold sore followed by touching other places can cause the virus to spread. To prevent spreading, a person with a cold sore should wash hands frequently especially after contact with the sore and avoid kissing and oral sex during outbreaks.

Is a cold sore a serious disease?

Cold sore infection of the mouth is very common and though the appearance may cause concern, it presents no serious risks to your general health. The main danger involved is spreading the infection to the eye by touching the sore then touching the eye. This can cause an eye infection or ulceration of the cornea. In very rare cases, herpes virus can infect the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, producing meningitis and encephalitis. This, however, is usually only seen in adults with an immune deficiency disorder.

Can you prevent cold sores?

The herpes virus is always present in the skin or nearby nerve tissue and stays with us for life. Although you may not always be able to prevent outbreaks, there are some self-help measures that may reduce the frequency of recurrences. When in the sunlight, use a sunscreen with a minimum protection factor of 15 or a preparation containing benzoic acid. Practice stress management techniques such as inhalation exercises or progressive relaxation.