Updated: Apr 25, 2020
A cold sore is a small fluid-filled blisters that can often become crusted and inflamed. They usually form on the edge of the lip/skin border, or the vermillion border. The blisters are painful and dry up to make a yellow crust which can take up to a week to heal.
People who are prone to them can get them a couple of times a year, and can be painful and difficult to manage.
They always seem to appear at the most inconvenient of times, and it isn't uncommon to see them on the bride-to-be in the days before a wedding - why? Stress is a significant trigger for them, with the virus laying dormant.
How do you get cold sores?
Cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex virus . You would normally get first exposed as a child, resulting in a fever and mouth ulcers. This is called primary herpetic gingivitis
About a third of people who get this infection go on to develop cold sores in later life.
What brings on the cold sores?
Cold sores usually appear when the immune system is low when you are feeling a little run down, or ill with something else: for example, with a cold or flu. Sunlight can occasionally bring on a cold sore.
Are they infectious?
Yes. Cold sores are infectious and the virus can be passed to other people by close contact (such as kissing). A cold sore is most infectious when it is blistering. It is important to try to avoid touching cold sores, because you can pass the virus on to other people's hands and even, very rarely, to your own eyes. Avoid squeezing, pinching or pricking the cold sore as this can spread the infection. Particularly avoid kissing babies and young children as they are very vulnerable to the infection.
Can they be treated?
Antiviral cream such as aciclovir, ease the pain and blistering and help the sores heal slightly more quickly. You can buy aciclovir from a pharmacist, or get a prescription from your GP or dentist. You should use these creams as early as possible when the cold sore starts to develop, and you should apply your cream regularly. Cold sores generally clear up without treatment in about a week. However, if you have a health condition that has weakened your immune system, or if the sores don't heal within two weeks on their own, see your doctor. If you often get attacks, your doctor/dentist may be able to prescribe an antiviral tablet to treat them.
I have a cold sore but am due to see my dentist. Will they still be able to treat me?
If you have a cold sore and are due to visit your dental team, check with them first. Some dentists prefer not to treat patients with active cold sores as the affected area, but at Expressions we are usually able to treat you as long as you are comfortable. We can use a barrier to prevent the blister from spreading.
How can I avoid getting one?
Once you have had the virus it stays with you for life and there is little you can do to avoid an attack. How often the cold sores appear vary. If sunlight or UV seem to be an initiator for you it is sensible to use a high spf sunblock or lip balm when on holiday, or on a high UV risk day.
Can you only get cold sores around the mouth or can you get them on other parts of the body?
The virus that causes cold sores can also cause similar diseases on other parts of the body (for example, the fingers, eyes and genitals). It is therefore important not to touch cold sores as you may accidentally spread the virus to other parts of your body.
For further advice contact Expressions on (0505) 21735 and we can discuss any issues you may have.
This article was sourced and adapted from the Oral Health Foundation in the UK, an excellent resource for dental health questions.