As a cold sore sufferer, I am all too familiar with the utter frustration of feeling the dreaded tingle. It’s the absolute worst, especially if you’ve got a big event coming up and you know the cold sore won’t be gone in time (sometimes there’s just not enough lippy in the world to conceal it). Despite my battle with the pesky little buggers, I’ve never really taken the time to find out what causes them, how they’re transmitted, why some people are more susceptible to them than others and how they can be treated. So I speak to Dr Ilana Galgut from enRich Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centre to do just that!
The HSV virus
Dr Galgut tells me cold sores occur by a strand of the herpes simplex virus known as HSV. This virus can be spread by “direct skin contact with a cold sore or an area that is shedding HSV”. If this contact occurs, a lesion appears around the mouth or the nose and they are usually recurrent.
Exposure to this virus can occur if “you are kissed by someone with a cold sore or one that is developing, or have oral sex with someone who has the virus”. Cold sores manifest themselves through initial tingling followed by swelling and blistering, and finally crusting and scabbing. Yep, it’s just as unpleasant as it sounds!
I’ve always found it strange that I get cold sores and yet no one else in my family has ever had one and neither have any of my past boyfriends. Dr Galgut explains, “We are not really sure why some people never seem to develop symptoms of having HSV, yet their blood tests for HSV serology show that they have had exposure to the virus.” So, I guess some people are just luckier than others and never develop core sores despite being exposed to the virus.
For those of us who have been exposed and then develop a cold sore, it is likely they will come back again and again #bugger. Dr Galgut says recurrences often occur in particular circumstances such as:
• If the person is tired, stressed or unwell
• If the area is irritated by anything including laser and cosmetic lip injections
• For women, during menstruation
• If the person has excessive sun exposure
People with low immune systems are also more susceptible to cold sores.
Treatment and prevention
While cold sores are not life threatening, they sure are a pain! It is an unfortunate truth that once a cold sore appears, you just have to ride it out until it dries up. Dr Galgut says cold sores will usually heal on their own, however pharmacy treatments are available to shorten the length of the infection. She also adds, “Some people choose to use supplements like L-Lysine which is reported to help prevent cold sores.” When it comes to other forms of prevention, Dr Galgut reckons it’s pretty hard to avoid ever picking up the virus, but steering clear of kissing anyone with an active lesion is a good place to start! She recommends acting quickly when you feel the tingle to speed up the healing process, and to look after your body “by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and [taking] time to wind down and relax from the stresses of daily life”.
To help combat cold sores, bh recommends
Have you ever had a cold sore? How do you usually treat them?