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Cold Sore On Lips: Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Also known as fever blisters, Cold sores usually affect a person on his/her lips and take anywhere between one or two weeks to heal completely. Tiny fluid-filled blisters come up on your lips either in single or in clusters. Normally very painful eruptions cold sores are contagious and can spread through close contact, i.e. through kissing etc. Though there is no major treatment for these sores, antiviral medications may reduce their impact and help in reducing the incidence of them happening. Let us know more about their causes, symptoms and likely treatments of cold sore on lips.

Cause of Cold Sores on Lips

Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus type 1. It’s another type (2) is responsible for causing Genital herpes. The size and type of the blisters created are same in both the cases and sometimes one of the types may cause the second ailment as well. Cold sores can be passed on to others especially if you come in close contact with the person.

Normally kissing, sharing your lipsticks or food can cause the cold sore to be contracted by someone else. Oral sex can cause both cold sores and Genital herpes to be passed on to some other person. Often the sores may not be visible, yet the infection may be there which can catch a person unawares.

Symptoms of Cold Sore on Lips

Normally a cold sore would pass through many stages before finally going away. All this takes up to 2 weeks to get rectified and can cause a lot of discomfort to the person in question.

  • Stage 1- 24 hours before the blisters erupt the person faces a tingling and itching sensation which refuses to go.
  • Stage 2- Small fluid-filled blisters appear either in clusters or separate.
  • Stage 3- Now is the stage when the blisters would burst leading to the oozing of fluids and finally blisters change into painful sores.
  • Stage 4- The healing starts with the sores drying out and causing itching and cracking of skin around you.
  • Stage 5- Finally the scab formed falls, and your cold sore heals.

Apart from that the symptoms and problems of cold sores can cause some other complications. Though these complications are mostly seen in small children, they can manifest in adults as well.

  • A very high and continuous spell of fever.
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing food items.
  • Discharge from eyes and red and irritated eyes. In some cases, the discharge may not be there.
  • Painful gums
  • A headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen Lymph nodes
  • A sore throat

Risk factors causing cold sore on lips

There is a specific segment of people who are prone to fall prey to the virus. Apart from that certain diseases present may also initiate the virus to spread and cause the virus to attack the person. Most people with weakened immune systems are the ones susceptible, but the below mentioned also stay at high risk.

  • Suffering from HIV/AIDS
  • Have faced severe burns
  • Eczema patients
  • Those undergoing Cancer chemotherapy
  • Who have taken anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants?
  • Children who have caught the virus may suck their thumbs and transfer the same to their fingertips.

Tips to prevent cold sores from happening

A person who gets infected with the Herpes simplex virus type 1 may be prone to getting the infection again. In that case, it is always better to prevent the problem from cropping up again. The virus will be present in a dormant manner in your body and if any of the triggers provoke it may just cause the sores to erupt once again. Follow the following tips to prevent cold sores from re-infecting you.

  • In case the cold sores happened when you were out in the sun you can apply zinc oxide lip balm before going out.
  • Stress could also be the reason for you facing the same problem again. To avoid keep your stress levels under control and if need be practice techniques like meditation and yoga to keep the disease away.
  • Do not indulge in physical relations with someone who has just suffered from the same disease or even affected by Genital herpes.
  • When blisters are present on a person refrain from sharing his utensils, clothes, lip cosmetics,and other items which may initiate any close contact between you.
  • Always ensure that you wash your hands carefully before indulging in any activity especially when it involves handling of small children. Washing hands and staying clean can keep the virus from coming back again.
  • Avoid eating items which can cause you irritation or even lead to frequent eruptions. These include trigger foods like spicy and salty foods, citrus items and hot beverages.

When to consult a doctor?

If the symptoms you are facing are mighty severe, it is better to consult a doctor for immediate relief. Though the healing process takes its own time the medicine suggested may provide temporary relief. If you take a medication in the early phases of the attack, it is quite possible that healing may take lesser time. Also if you are facing difficulty in eating and drinking, you might be subjected to dehydration which may again require medical help. In rare cases, the herpes simplex affects the person’s brain leading to fever and confusion. Intravenous treatments and hospitalisation remain the only treatment then.

Treatment of Cold sore on lips

Though there is no sure shot cure for the treatment, the following steps can be taken to make the healing process simplified.

  • Lemon Balm– Generally lemon balm can help in reducing the swelling and itchiness caused by the blister present. Though Lemon balm does not work in reducing the pain you are suffering from. You can either use a lip balm which has lemon present in it or a compress of lemon tea may prove useful for the same.
  • Ice– Actually Ice cannot prevent the breakout of the sores, but it can reduce the discomfort you are facing. For momentary relief use an ice pack and apply it directly to the inflamed portion.
  • Aloe Vera– That Aloe Vera has anti-inflammatory properties, is widely known. Though there is no major study which proves the same still applying Aloe Vera soothes your skin just when a breakout happens.
  • Sunscreen– Applying sunscreen on the lips not only protects them from the harsh sun, it also reduces the chances of you getting any future outbreaks. For better results look for a sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30 and apply whenever going out in the sun.
  • Antiviral medication-OTC medications containing Docosanol or Benzyl alcohol may prove helpful in reducing the impact of the eruption. It can also prove helpful in hastening the healing process thus simplifying the healing process.
  • Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide- You can even rub the alcohol and hydrogen peroxide on your sores can help dry them and even proceed in easing your healing. In the situation that using this irritates, the use of the same should be stopped immediately.
  • Prescription treatments- Even though the cold sores go away with time it is quite possible that you may face repeated breakouts. In that case, you should take prescription medicines like Zovirax, Valtrex, Famvir, and Denavir.
  • Vitamin E- In any form either oil or supplements, Vitamin E can prove useful in treating cold sores eruptions. You can also include items having Vitamin E as part of your diet. Apart from that using nail polish remover can also prove helpful though no concrete proofs are justifying the same.
  • Popsicle– Anything cold reduces the pain and discomfort you might face because of the cold sores. Sucking on a cool Popsicle may subside the inflammation for some time and help you in feeling relaxed for some time.
  • Skin protectant– Your first aid box may have some petroleum jelly, and that could come to your rescue too. Just apply it religiously two or three times a day until you do not feel any relief in them.
  • Dental care– While you are facing the eruptions make sure that your dental care is up to the mark. Cleanliness hastens the relief and suing and antiseptic mouthwash while brushing teeth would most likely reduce the pain that you are experiencing.
  • Rhubarb and sage– As per a study and a combination of rhubarb and sage will give the same kind of effects that any antiviral cream may provide. A cream containing them may be as effective as acyclovir treatment for herpes infections.

Cold sore on lips though painful can be subdued by the treatments mentioned above. However, do not take any medication without consulting a doctor first. Normally your ailment should go away in two weeks, but if you see the problem bothering you frequently, it would be better if you take medical help. Maintaining cleanliness and staying away from people who are suffering from the same can be your only suggested solution to not go through it again. If you are careful once affected the disease may not come to attack you again. However, carelessness in this matter can prove to be troublesome.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.