by Hyo Lim
It starts as a tingle on the lips, and in a few days a painful blister appears, announcing to the world the arrival of a cold sore. This condition affects many and often occurs at the most inopportune times. Despite its “cold” name, it can be triggered by excessive sunlight, making summer a prime time to suffer an outbreak. Other triggers include stress, trauma (dental treatments), fatigue and hormonal changes. The typical time for healing is two weeks.
The triggers activate the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which lies dormant in the nerves until it infects the cells in and around the lips. In a few days the sore becomes visible and is contagious. The virus can then spread to other parts of the body and to people that have not been previously infected. For most people who suffer from cold sores, the infection has occurred during early childhood without any visible outbreaks. Cold sores can also be contracted by sexual contact from exposure to genital herpes virus (HSV-2).
There is no cure for this common but bothersome disease. The best approach is to prevent outbreaks by controlling and avoiding the typical triggers. There are, however, products to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms. Antiviral medications such as Valtrex and Zovirax taken orally with in the first 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms can be effective in shortening the outbreak and lessening the intensity of the cold sores.
Topical ointments, whether prescription (Denavir, Zovirax) or over the counter (Abreva, Zilactin), shorten the outbreak by only a few days. The products can, however, reduce the symptoms of pain, itching and burning.
There are also some natural products that can help in recovering from cold sores. Lysine, an amino acid, taken daily (1000mg) has been found to reduce the frequency of outbreaks. For those that like the taste, licorice can be an enjoyable way to fight back. Studies have shown that the glycyrrhizic acid found in licorice prevents the spread of the virus. Licorice powder can even be added to petroleum jelly or other creams and applied to the affected areas. Lastly, aloe vera applied topically can soothe the symptoms of burning and itching. It does not shorten the duration of cold sores caused by HSV-1, but it does speed up the healing process of those caused by HSV-2 (genital herpes).
As the height of summer approaches, enjoy the long sunny days with plenty of sunscreen for the exposed areas, including the lips. If an outbreak does occur, consult your dentist or doctor or try the natural products mentioned here to deal with the cold sores. Rest assured, the summer is long and the outbreak will be short.
Dr. Hyo Lim, DMD, practices at Dental Wellness Centre, in King of Prussia. Connect with him at 610-265-4485 or DentalWellnessCentre.com.