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Armalyn    Cold sores

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are viral and caused by the herpes simplex virus. They usually occur near the mouth and form blisters by the lips. Usually cold sores can last an uncomfortable seven to 10 days. It is important to note that cold sores are not the same as canker sores. Canker sores are not contagious and are present inside the mouth.

Cold sores are contagious and are easily spread by sharing utensils, drinking glasses, toothbrushes, razors, or towels. The virus is also spread by direct skin-to-skin contact or through direct contact with the infectious fluid from the blister. The virus enters the body through broken skin around the mouth. Once you have had a cold sore, the virus stays in your system and can return to the same area or appear in a different area.

Before the cold sore is visible, it starts as a tingling or burning sensation around the mouth. This sensitive area near the lips can be tender or painful, as well as itchy. A blister then forms on the skin in one or two days after the tingling starts. The blister is red, raised and filled with fluid. After the blister ruptures, the fluid leaks out and the area becomes crusted over. It can take up to 2 weeks for the skin to heal.

Although the herpes virus lies dormant in the body, there are triggers that can cause cold sores to resurface. These triggers include exposure to the sun, fever, a cold/flu, stress, menstruation, dental work or a weakened immune system.

There is no cure for cold sores. They will resolve on their own. However, there are medications to relieve the symptoms and help shorten the duration of a cold sore. Medications available without a prescription provide pain relief and decreased itching. Products that help shorten the duration should be applied during the onset of a cold sore (when you feel the tingling or burning). There are also prescription creams and ointments that decrease symptoms and shorten healing time. Oral prescription medications can be taken to prevent the return of cold sores for those who get them frequently. Warm or cold compresses may help relieve the pain. Although tempting, avoid picking at the blister and allow it to heal on it’s own.

If you have a cold sore, you should see their doctor if:

you have a health condition that involves a weakened immune system
your cold sore does not heal within 2 weeks
your cold sores recur frequently
your cold sore symptoms are very bothersome
you have discomfort in the eyes

Although cold sores are very contagious, infection can be prevented. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. If you have a cold sore, clean your hands before and after you touch the area. The same cold sore virus can affect other parts of your body (eyes and genital area). Avoid drinking from the same glass or sharing utensils with others. Protect your face from the sun by wearing a hat. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before going out in the sun and wear lip balm that contains sunscreen. Keep from sharing lip balm with others. Avoid kissing someone who has cold sores. Try to decrease stress to your body by getting enough sleep and eating healthy.

Even though cold sores are contagious and unpleasant, protect yourself and others by washing your hands frequently and avoid sharing drinks and utensils.

For more information about cold sores, ask your pharmacist and visit the online sources below.


The above information is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor, pharmacist or qualified health care professional to receive proper medical treatment.

Armalyn Tesoro is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy. She is currently working as a licensed community pharmacist at Wal-Mart on Ellice and Empress.


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