If you are a cold sore sufferer then you will know that they are painful, but did you know that they are incredibly contagious? In addition to the potential to spread infection to others, infection can also be spread to other areas of your face or eyes.
Unfortunately we are unable to treat patients with a cold sore at stages 1 to 3, this is when the virus is highly contagious. Once a hard scab has formed, and isn’t in a prominent place on the lips, then we can see the patient for treatment. Here the symptoms of each stage are explained.
Tingle: This stage normally lasts between a few hours and a day.
The cold sore is invisible at this stage but a tingling or burning sensation may be felt. If an antiviral cream (Aciclovir) is applied at this stage it may prevent the visible signs of the cold sore from appearing. Aciclovir attacks the virus and stops it from multiplying.
Blister: This stage is characterised by a small group of painful, fluid-filled blisters. These are normally seen on the second day of the cold sore cycle. Here again, treatment with an antiviral cream will reduce the life of the cold sore.
Ulcer: Once the small blisters have burst, a weeping ulcer is seen that may last for several days. This stage is also very painful. The clear liquid that is released from the ulcer contains a high number of viral particles and as such is highly contagious.
Scab: After about 4 days a thin scab will form, acting as a protective covering for the new skin that is forming beneath. The skin around the scab may dry and crack and even bleed. Moisturising the area will help to reduce this. The scab may also be itchy, but is not contagious at this stage.
Healing: After 9 - 12 days the cold sore will have healed. A slightly red/pink area of skin will remain but will quickly fade. Most people who get cold sores will usually experience around 2 - 3 attacks per year although some people may get as many as 12.
Once infected, the virus cannot be removed. There are medicines available to treat the first episode of infection and to treat recurring cold sores.
For an adult or child over two years old with a first infection, tablets from your dentist or doctor can be taken five times a day for five days.
To treat recurring cold sores, antiviral cream can be applied five times a day for five days beginning as soon as the tingling sensation begins, or as soon as the cold sore appears on the lip. The cream can be bought from a pharmacy, but the tablets must be prescribed by a Dentist or Doctor.
It is important in managing this condition to identify what triggers an outbreak of cold sores. Most cold sore sufferers can identify everyday events that cause the reactivation of the virus and lead to the development of a cold sore. These triggers can vary between individuals, for example, where one person is more affected by the cold, another sufferer may be more susceptible to sunlight. Identifying the trigger is the first step to take towards managing cold sores.