Cold Sores

Cold sores normally first occur on or near your lip.  They are caused by a type of herpes virus that is highly contagious and are often caught in childhood from someone who is infected.  The virus lies dormant until it is activated, usually at a most inconvenient moment, and starts by tingling or burning near where the blister is going to occur. Within a few hours one or more small blisters form, often swelling the surrounding area, giving rise to a throbbing painful sore.

The liquid inside the blister contains active herpes viruses, so may spread to other areas or other people once the blister breaks. The sore may become infected with bacteria as well as with the virus, so care must be taken to prevent any further infection.  Try not to touch your cold sore if you can help it!

Once you have had your first cold sore you remain infected, so there is no absolute cure.  The virus often lies dormant for some time, and is activated by stress, sunburn, colds and flu’, by physical injury such as from dental work, fatigue and being run down.  Interestingly the origin of the name “cold sore” is because they tend to develop following a trigger event such as a cold.  However, in Central Otago, it is most likely to be because of sun exposure.

The best treatment for cold sores is not to get one in the first place, so take care when people around you have a cold sore.  Make sure you don’t share cups, cutlery, toothbrushes, towels & lip balms.  Ensure you (and they) wash and dry your hands frequently.  Kissing is not recommended!

The next best treatment is specific antiviral medicines, used at the first sign of tingling, which is the warning sign that cold sores are on their way. The tablet Famciclovir Once is available over the counter from your pharmacist but must be taken within 6-hours of your tingle, ideally.  Have a supply of Zovirax cream on hand at home so that you don’t have to wait for the Pharmacy to open – as Murphy’s Law states the cold sore will arrive after hours!  Other preventatives available include regular lysine supplements which come very well recommended by cold sore sufferers.  I see on the internet a popular treatment is to hold an ice cube against the cold sore until it melts, giving you both a numbing and healing effect.

Most cold sores resolve within 10 days, but will pop up again if you allow the triggers to activate the virus again. Our community pharmacists here at Cromwell Pharmacy will be able to give you advice to treat and prevent reinfection of cold sores, and determine if you need to seek further medical help to prevent your cold sores developing into more serious infections.   #heretohelp