• 18 JAN 18
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    Cold Sores: What are They & How to Avoid Them

    Winter is a time of high stress, fatigue, the flu, and extreme weather conditions. These are all triggers for cold sores, making outbreaks most common this time of the year. If you occasionally get cold sores—also known as fever blisters or oral herpes—you know how painful and embarrassing they can be. Learn more about cold sores and how to avoid them with information from the Academy of General Dentistry.

    Herpes sore with pus on the lips of the young beautiful girl and a white cream on her finger

    Cold Sores

    What are cold sores?

    Cold sores are tiny, fluid-filled blisters that most often develop on or around the lips. If they occur inside the mouth, they usually appear on the gums or roof of the mouth. Outbreaks typically last about two to 12 days.

    Cold sores are caused by the type 1 herpes simplex virus (different from the type 2 version that affects the genital area). More than half of the US population has contracted type 1 herpes by the time they reach adulthood. While most people are asymptomatic, the infection causes cold sores in about 30 percent of the population.

    Are cold sores and canker sores the same thing?

    No. While both types of sores look and feel similar, canker sores are not caused by a virus, nor are they contagious. Instead, canker sores are usually triggered by irritation of the mouth, food allergies, hormonal changes, or a weakened immune system. They also form on soft tissues inside the mouth, such as the tongue, cheek, and soft palate, whereas cold sores more often appear outside the mouth.

    What triggers a cold sore?

    Once you contract the type 1 herpes virus, you have it for life. Still, the virus remains dormant for long periods of time, only causing an outbreak when you are exposed to a trigger. These may include:

    • Catching a cold or the flu
    • Experiencing stress or fatigue
    • Undergoing hormonal changes during menstruation or pregnancy
    • Having a deficient immune system
    • Receiving dental treatment
    • Being exposed to sunlight or UV lamps for long periods
    • Eating food you are allergic to

    How can I avoid cold sore outbreaks?

    The first thing you should be aware of is that cold sores are highly contagious. If you have never had a cold sore, you are either asymptomatic or haven’t been exposed to the type 1 herpes virus before. To protect yourself from a possible future outbreak, avoid intimate physical contact with people who have a cold sore, and don’t share eating utensils, towels, or razors with them.

    If you have experienced a cold sore outbreak before, you undoubtedly want to minimize its recurrence. Here’s how:

    • Eat foods high in lysine: This amino acid can help reduce cold sores. You can increase your intake by eating red meat, fish, and dairy and by taking supplements.
    • Moisturize and sunscreen your lips: Before going outside, apply lip balm with a mild SPF to moisturize and protect your lips from the sun.
    • Wash your hands frequently: Cold sores are caused by a virus, so you’re more likely to experience an outbreak when you catch a cold or the flu. To prevent this, wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.

    How do I treat cold sores?

    There is no cure or foolproof prevention method for cold sores, but antiviral medicine helps them heal faster. As soon as you detect the signs of a cold sore—which may include burning or tingling sensations around your lips or on your gums—apply medicine to the affected area to shorten the outbreak. Regular use of preventative medicine helps to prevent outbreaks in people who experience them frequently.

    Take Care of Your Mouth with Regular Dentist Visits

    If your goal is to smile with confidence, preventing a cold sore outbreak is a great place to start. Then, you should also make regular dentist visits a top priority. If it’s time for your next routine cleaning and check-up, please call Evanson DDS at (720) 409-0008 or contact us online to set an appointment.

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