Best Health

OH, THAT’S AWK­WARD

They’re painful. They’re em­bar­rass­ing. And they love to show up when life gets stress­ful. Here’s how to keep cold sores at bay.

- By ANNA SHARRATT Health · Health Tips · Medicine · Lifestyle · Lifehacks · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Ohio

Cold sores are painful, in­fec­tious and em­bar­rass­ing. But there are ways to lessen an out­break.

Like an un­wanted guest who shows up when you least ex­pect them, cold sores are soul-suck­ing nui­sances Just ask any­one who deals with the pe­ri­odic erup­tion of nasty red blis­ters around their mouth. And the emo­tional toll can be dra­matic, de­spite the fact that suf­fer­ers are in good com­pany: One in five Cana­di­ans gets cold sores. Still, a lot of peo­ple go into seclu­sion dur­ing an out­break, says Rachael Man­ion, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cana­dian Skin Pa­tient Al­liance. For a more proac­tive ap­proach, here’s your needto-know and how-to-deal guide.

What are they?

Cold sores are caused by the her­pes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) — or, less com­monly, the her­pes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) — and they man­i­fest as pus-filled blis­ters around the mouth. Af­ter you get in­fected, the virus stays in your body for the rest of your life. An­other an­noy­ing quality? They can feel like they take for­ever to heal, last­ing for up to three weeks be­fore the blis­ters crust over and fall off.

Trig­gers

While the sores are caused by the virus, what trig­gers an erup­tion can be dif­fer­ent for each per­son, says Man­ion. Fac­tors like hor­monal shifts, an in­fec­tion, a cold or flu, lots of sun and wind ex­po­sure, and trauma to the lips can cause them to flare up, she says. To the sur­prise of no one, stress is also a trig­ger.

How to pro­tect your­self and oth­ers

Cold sores are highly con­ta­gious. “This is a virus that can be con­ta­gious even when you’re not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cold sore,” she says. So if you’re feel­ing the tell­tale signs of one com­ing on — pain, itch­ing or tin­gling around your mouth, also known as the pro­dro­mal stage — kiss­ing some­one is not your best plan. Es­pe­cially avoid new­borns, who can get life-threat­en­ingly sick from the virus. It can also be spread through oral sex, for which Man­ion has two words: “Use con­doms.” Or a den­tal dam. Or, the safest op­tion, skip it al­to­gether.

Be sure to wash your hands fre­quently too (which should be a reg­u­lar part of your rou­tine any­ways these days). And don’t share drinks, uten­sils or lip balm. Touch­ing a cold sore and then rubbing your eye can lead to her­pes simplex ker­ati­tis, a se­vere eye in­fec­tion that re­quires treat­ment with pre­scrip­tion an­tivi­ral drops.

Treat­ment

“You re­ally want to treat it as early as pos­si­ble,” says Man­ion. Tack­ling the sore in those first few days can re­duce the sever­ity and pre­vent a red, an­gry, pus-filled night­mare. Your first line of at­tack might be the over-the-counter op­tions avail­able at the drug­store. If you’re get­ting cold sores more fre­quently

— say, once a month — then make an ap­point­ment to see your doc­tor. There are top­i­cal and oral pre­scrip­tion an­tivi­rals that can help stave off ma­jor erup­tions and speed up the healing process.

Preven­tion

Pro­tect­ing the skin around your mouth can also go a long way to­ward less­en­ing out­breaks, says Man­ion. She sug­gests us­ing emol­lient creams such as pe­tro­leum jelly or ones con­tain­ing al­lan­toin, dime­thicone, or glyc­er­ine, to keep the skin around your mouth mois­tur­ized. “These creams can pre­vent the skin from dry­ing out and act as a me­chan­i­cal bar­rier,” she says.

The key is to stay on top of your health — and to act as soon as symp­toms ap­pear. “A cold sore can re­ally af­fect your life,” says Man­ion. “But treat­ments may pre­vent it from get­ting bad, and it will heal faster.” She also en­cour­ages peo­ple to be open about it, rather than go­ing into hid­ing. This will help re­duce the stigma around a fairly com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence.

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