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Cold Sores

A dermatologist examining cold sores on the lips of a woman patient

How to Get Rid of a Cold Sore- FAST!

While the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near being over, we are starting to get our footing around a “new normal” of our daily existence. We are finding safe ways to get back into the swing of socialization after months of being cooped up at home. So, you just made plans with your friends for a weekend brunch…and then this happens.

Uh oh…you feel it. The tingle…the burn… (cue the Jaws theme song). It is coming out of nowhere there it is—the dreaded cold sore. Yikes!

Causes of Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV-1. It is a highly contagious virus that never leaves your body. Most people contract HSV-1 in childhood, but you can also contract it as an adult.

Generally cold sores start with a tingling, itching, or burning sensation on the lip. It may develop into a small, raised bump that can turn into a blister. If it creates a blister, it may break open and drain clear fluid that dries into a crust. Once the crust has dried and fallen off, it is just about gone. Once the area is completely healed (about 10-14 days), the spot where the cold sore was will return to normal.

Cold Sore Precautions

Cold sores are very common and mostly harmless, but they are easily spread from person to person because of how contagious the virus is. You can become infected with HSV-1 by kissing, touching your skin with unwashed hands, and by sharing infected items like toothbrushes. Some people have an outbreak once or twice in their whole life and it never comes back again. But for some, they can keep coming back repeatedly. Unfortunately, once you are infected with HSV-1, the virus does not leave the body. You may never even know that you have the virus until something “triggers” a cold sore outbreak.

The ultimate cause of cold sores is the HSV-1 virus, but we need to concentrate on what triggers them to appear. Sun exposure, along with fatigue/stress and the common cold are the top three triggers for a cold sore outbreak. However, cold weather and certain food groups can also play a role in causing cold sores to appear.

Because sun exposure is one of the main triggers of cold sore outbreaks, it is especially important to ensure that you are adequately protected from the harmful rays of the sun. Make sure that you are using a broad spectrum, physical sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30. You should also use a lip balm with SPF 15 sunscreen or more daily. If you are constantly licking your lips, you need to ensure that you are reapplying.

Picture of woman with cold sores on her lips

Fatigue and stress just run the body ragged, which lowers our immune system making our bodies vulnerable to all kinds of viral infections and colds. If our immune systems are not functioning properly, it creates an environment where the cold sore virus can activate and form a blister. It is important to ensure that you are achieving adequate rest for your body to repair itself, as well as incorporating relaxation techniques like meditation and yoga to help slow the body down.

Cold weather can activate a breakout because of the change in air temperature and moisture levels, leaving skin dry and susceptible for a cold sore to form. It is important to protect your face against the cold and wind while you are outdoors. Continue to apply sun protection lip balm and stay indoors to avoid drastically cold temperatures if possible. Even though it may be cold and cloudy, the sun can still break through the clouds!

While generally poor diets will leave your immune system in a weakened state and vulnerable to any infection, certain foods (some healthy ones) can be troublesome in trying to avoid a cold sore outbreak. We all want to focus on eating healthy by ensuring that our diets are full of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean proteins to fuel our bodies. Some foods that people look to incorporate into their diets to make them “healthier” can be adding in foods that may be troublesome to those prone to cold sores. Arginine, an amino acid that is found in a variety of different foods can play a role in outbreaks. Studies have shown that arginine has viral growth properties, which means it may increase the rate at which the HSV-1 virus multiplies in your body. If you are experiencing a cold sore outbreak, you should avoid foods like turkey and chicken breast, nuts (especially peanuts), chickpeas, dairy products, and lentils. It is also recommended to avoid foods that are spicy or salty, as these foods are likely to irritate the lips.

Since we do not want these oozy scabs on our lips for up to two weeks, how can we treat cold sores? One of the most important things to do while combating a cold sore outbreak is not to pick at the sore. I know it is tempting, but you can potentially spread the sores to other parts of your face and body as well as potentially creating an environment for an infection. Be sure to keep your hands clean and off your face! One of the most effective ways to get rid of a cold sore is with oral antiviral medications. They must be prescribed by a doctor and work best within the first day or two of a cold sore developing. If you wait too long, they may not work. It is best to get an appointment when you first feel the tingle or burn coming on. If you cannot get an appointment with a dermatologist, there are over the counter antiviral creams that can help treat a cold sore. They are less effective than oral antiviral medication, but it can reduce pain and the duration. As the same with the oral medication, it works best when you feel the cold sore coming on.

Schweiger Dermatology Group features world renowned experts in the field of medical and cosmetic dermatology. Our talented team of providers will help you on your self-care journey by bringing your skin back to life. With over 65 offices around New York, New Jersey, Long Island, and Pennsylvania, we offer same day appointments both in office and via video visit. The health and safety of our patients is staff is our top priority, so our offices are employing enhanced safety measures should you prefer to be seen in office.

While we are doing our best to protect one another, it is important that we take the time to take care of ourselves. Call 844-DERM-DOC or go online today to schedule an appointment to achieve healthy skin.

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