How Common Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are also referred to as fever blisters and they are caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). They are small fluid filled blisters that form around the lips. The blisters are normally clustered together in patches. Once the blisters break, a crust develops on the sore that is left behind. Generally, a cold sore will heal within two weeks. However, there is no cure for HSV infection so the cold sores might recur.

How Common Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are very common. According to WebMD, about 90% of all people get at least one cold sore in their life. And about 40% of American adults have recurrent cold sores. Cold sores are so common due to the following 2 reasons:

  • HSV-1 virus is very common. In fact, it is probably in your system and it has been there since you were a child. Although not all people with the virus get cold sores, about 70% of the general population tests positive for antibodies to HSV-1. Experts believe that certain genetic mutations cause the cold sore break outs. Professionals are yet to fully understand what causes the HSV infections to be active in some people and dormant in others. It is not certain what triggers the virus, but you do not need to have a cold to develop a cold sore. Cold sores can be caused by stress, hormonal changes during pregnancy and menstruation, cold weather, sunlight, certain drugs or foods, tooth removal or other infections. And it can be recurrent! So avoid those triggers and try to stay as healthy as possible. Sleep enough, keep stress levels at bay and eat healthy! 
  • HSP-1 virus is highly contagious. The virus normally finds its way into the body through skin opening or inside the mouth. This happens when the fluid of the cold sore comes into contact with another person through sharing razors or eating utensils, touching someone else’s saliva like kissing. Parents with cold sores tend to spread the infection to their children this way. It is also possible for cold sores to spread to other parts of the body.

How to Avoid Getting Cold Sores

How common are cold sores? Very! But don't worry; you can reduce the risk of getting cold sores by:

  • Avoiding sharing drinking glasses and cups, eating utensils, toothbrushes, silverware, razors, towels or other items that an infected person might have used;
  • Avoid direct contact with an infected person’s body fluids, like kissing someone with the blisters.
  • Avoid cold sore triggers like stress, flu, colds, etc.
  • Consult your doctor if you get cold sores too often. You can get prescription drugs to prevent another break outs.

How Does Having Cold Sores Feel like?

Since the answer to "How common are cold sores?" is very common, you should know the symptoms of cold sore to better prepare yourself. A few days before a cold sore develops, you might experience burning or tingling sensation on your face or lips. When it finally forms, it will be a red blister filled with fluid. It is mostly painful and tender to touch, and there might be more than one that pops up. Until it crusts over, it is very contagious. A cold sore will not show for up to 20 days after you get the virus. Generally, within 2 weeks it will heal on its own. You might also get swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and fever.

When to See a Doctor

If you touch your cold sore before you touch your eyes, you might get an eye infection. If you get an eye infection, you should visit your doctor immediately. If not treated quickly, infections caused by HSV can result to permanent vision loss.

More severe complications and symptoms can occur with the first HSV infection. This is because your body has not yet built up defenses against the virus. Complications are quite rare but they do occur mostly in children. Call your doctor as soon as possible when you experience:

  • Irritated red eyes with or without any discharge
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Persistent or high fever

Besides, complications target people with eczema or conditions that lower their immunity levels like AIDS and cancer. If you have any of the 2 conditions, consult your doctor if you think you have contracted HSV.

Treat Your Cold Sores to Get Better Quickly

The ultimate goal of knowing "How common are cold sores?“ and the symptoms of cold sores is to treat this condition effectively. Herpes simplex virus has no cure and they usually go away in 7 – 10 days on their own, but there are several ways to help accelerate the healing process when they develop.

1. Creams and Ointments

If you are having trouble with your cold sores, you can improve the healing process and reduce the pain using antiviral creams like penciclovir (Denavir). Ointments will work best if they are applied immediately after the cold sore appears. You might have to apply 4-5 times a day for 4-5 days. A better cream is Docosanol (Abreva). This over-the-counter cream is capable of shortening an outbreak from several hours to a day. Application must be done several times a day.

2. Medication

Oral antiviral medication can also be used to treat cold sores. Prescription pills like famciclovir (Famvir), valacyclovir (Valtrex) and acyclovir (Zovirax) are used to treat cold sores if you are experiencing complications or you have frequent outbreaks.

3. Home Remedies

You can ease the symptoms by the following home care methods:

  • Apply washcloths dipped in cold water or ice wrapped in cloth over the sores to reduce redness, assist in crust removing and help promote healing.
  • Use lip balms with lemon extracts or using lysine supplements to help healing. For dry lips, use some moisturizing creams.
  • Wash your hands as often as possible and avoid touching the sore. This will prevent you from spreading the cold sores to other parts of the body like your genitals and eyes as well as to other people.
  • Use sunscreen on your face and lip balm for your lips to protect yourself from the sun. Too much sun might cause the sores to worsen.
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