Facial cold sores are caused by Type I Herpes Simplex. Herpes is a fairly common virus that affects the majority of people at least once in their lifetime. In less developed countries, 100% of children experience Type I herpes simplex by the age of 5.
The virus can remain latent within the nervous system for many years without symptoms. Facial cold sores appear when the virus becomes active and multiplies within the nervous system, extending down the nerves and causing cold sores -- also called fever blisters -- to occur. After this attack, the virus typically becomes latent and once again remains in the nervous system in a resting state until the next attack.
Avoid Activating the Virus
Because cold sores typically do not disappear immediately with treatment, and often remain untreated, the best way to treat cold sores is to prevent them. There are a number of ways to prevent activating the virus, all of which depend on understanding the causes that trigger the latent virus to become active.
Infections, including colds or flus, can cause the virus to become active. You should use hand sanitizers and wash your hands regularly to avoid getting a cold or the flu. The sun can also trigger an outbreak, so you should use lip balm with sun screen or zinc oxide on or around the lips, mouth and nostrils. Hormonal fluctuation, especially around menstruation, can cause an outbreak. Finally, stress may cause an outbreak which results in the appearance of facial cold sores.
The virus that causes cold sores is not currently curable. Mild cold sores are typically not treated and simply run their course. The sores usually appear and disappear within seven to ten days. While antiviral agents can be used to treat cold sores, often these drugs are not effective unless they are applied at the first sign of the cold sore. These drugs include aciclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir. These antiviral agents do not make the cold sore immediately disappear, nor do they cure the underlying virus, which may continue to become active and cause cold sores to appear. However, antiviral medications, especially if applied early, can stop the virus from multiplying, and can shorten the time the cold sore remains visible on the face. Home remedies may also be used to shorten the time the cold sore exists on the face, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Various home remedies have been recommended to treat cold sores on the face, such as using herbs and other plants, including lemon, mint, sage, tea or aloe. Holding a teabag on the cold sore can help to prevent it from spreading or developing. Juice from an aloe plant may ease the pain and, if rubbed on the sore at first appearance, will prevent the spread of the sore and keep it from blistering. In addition, applying lemon balm cream to cold sores shortens the average healing time of the blisters from 10 days to five days. The use of lemon balm may also help prevent the virus from becoming active and producing new cold sores.
Probiotics such as acidophilus capsules have also been recommended to avoid cold sores or shorten the course of the active virus.
Finally, rubbing ice on the cold sore for one hour within the first 24 hours of its appearance, drinking cold liquids, or eating cold foods can help to ease the pain of a cold sore, and potentially shorten the course of the cold sore.
While antiviral drugs stop the virus from multiplying once it becomes active and symptomatic, they do not cure the underlying virus.
Acyclovir is the drug most commonly used to treat cold sores. Acyclovir can be taken orally, given intravenously or applied directly to cold sores in a cream form (although this last option is the least effective of the three). Acyclovir can both reduce the frequency of outbreaks and shorten the length of the outbreak.
Other types of creams, including those containing drying agents like benzoyl peroxide, can be applied directly to cold sores to help shorten the course of the blisters.
Generally, all antiviral drugs are most effective if used before the cold sores actually form. Taking the drugs early can help prevent cold sores from appearing at all, and/or shorten the life span of cold sores that do appear.
Because the virus may become active due to an imbalance of pH in the body, maintaining appropriate acid levels may help to prevent an outbreak from occurring. Therefore, taking supplements including Vitamin C, E and zinc may help to prevent outbreaks by maintaining a neutral pH level.
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