What to do about those pesky cold sores!

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Cold sores are very common so if you suffer from them or if you have one at the moment you are by no means alone. Many of our patients who wear braces will have experienced them from time to time.

What exactly are cold sores and what can you do to minimise their impact?

By the way, cold sore…not “coleslaw”…although this mixture of cabbage and mayonnaise is also quite unpleasant  : )

 A virus for everyone

The cold sore is a viral infection and that virus is called herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1).  (This is NOT the same as genital herpes which is type 2)

 

Virtually all adults in the UK population carry HSV-1 in their saliva but the virus is usually inactive and causes no symptoms.

A cold sore is actually the second stage of HSV-1. If you get cold sores, you will have had a “primary infection” beforehand presenting as mouth ulcers, sore gums and a general feeling of “unwellness”.

People are affected very differently in the primary phase. Sometimes it is a very mild infection and may go almost unnoticed. Some experience it when very young so you may not even remember!

 Herpes labialis

…is the medical term for the cold sore, which occurs in 30% of people who have had the primary infection. Some people only ever get one or two, other people may get several a year.

It occurs on the skin of the lips or around the mouth (it can even occur on the nose). The first sign ( as sufferers will know) is a tingling sensation on the lips. After 24 hours tiny blisters ( or “vesicles”) appear which are quite painful.

Cold sores are self-limiting and usually clear up within 7-10 days.

Some things trigger an attack of cold sores. Stress or illness, exposure to sunlight ( many people get them on their holiday abroad) and menstruation are common examples.

 What to do about your cold sore

If you catch it early at the “tingling” stage, a cold sore can be stopped in its tracks by applying topical Aciclovir cream. This is available over the counter at pharmacists ( your pharmacist will be able to advise you). If you are regularly affected by cold sores it is a good idea to have a tube if this handy at home so you can act quickly if you feel one coming on.

Knowing your trigger factors can help you be prepared. A good sunblock for your lips is a good idea if exposure to sunlight is one of them.

However antiviral creams are not effective if the blistering has already started. Other topical creams may relieve some of the discomfort e.g. topical anaesthetics…again, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Get plenty of sleep, keep a healthy diet and stay hydrated ( this is especially important for young children).

Don’t come into close contact with others if you have a cold sore as they are very contagious. In particular, avoid contact with babies and people whose immune systems are compromised ( e.g. if on chemotherapy).

 More information

 Herpes Virus Association

About Cleveland Orthodontics

Our specialist-led practice has been established since 1996 and provides brace treatment to people of all ages from across the North East and Teesside, including Middlesbrough, Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, Billingham and Redcar.

We offer NHS orthodontic treatment for children and a range of modern white and “invisible” braces for adults of all ages such as Invisalign. FREE consultations are available… you can either telephone for an appointment on 01642 243 020 or book through our website.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net