Recognize & Treat Cold Sores Quickly

Dec 11, 2012

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy


Cold sores are not a lot of fun, especially this time of year when pictures opportunities with family or friends are abundant. Many patients come in to the pharmacy complaining how quickly the cold sore appeared, how much it hurts and how they hate the look of the scabbing blister. Cold sores are also quite contagious, so no kissing allowed. Even if the mistletoe comes out for the holidays you will have to refrain!


The most common complaint is the difficulty in treating a cold sore and the fact you can never completely get rid of the virus that causes them. Cold Sores are caused by the herpes simplex1 virus. They appear as a single blister or as a cluster. They often reoccur in the same location which is most commonly the lips, nose chin or cheeks. The virus can also spread to the eye and is the leading cause of blindness in North America. About 1 in 5 Canadians have to deal with cold sores, which on average appear two to three times a year. Some people may confuse a cold sore with a canker sore; however, canker sores are actually sores or ulcers that occur inside your mouth.


As mentioned, the cold sore virus can never be cured. Most people are infected with the herpes simplex1 virus during childhood and the virus never leaves. The virus hides, silently waiting in the bodys nervous system. If you are infected with the virus certain triggers wake the virus and a cold sore develops. Some common triggers are stress, sunlight, fever, dry chapped lips or skin trauma in the area where a cold sore can develop.


Most cold sores suffers know exactly when one is coming. They recognize the distinctive burning, tingling, pain, itching or redness. Next, the blisters develop. Once the blister breaks, it crusts and then falls off leaving behind pinkish looking skin. The only good thing about a cold sore is it usually does not develop into a scar. The whole process of a cold sore is usually over within 8-12 days. It is within these 8-12 days the chance of spreading the virus is the greatest. Always avoid skin to skin contact as much as possible. The virus is spread through direct contact with a lesion or via body fluid from an infected individual. Also avoid sharing food, beverages and even towels as they can become contaminated. It is very important to also practice frequent hand washing.


While you cant cure or prevent a cold sore attack entirely, you can reduce how often they occur and shorten the length of an outbreak. To reduce cold sore occurrences use a lip moisturizer regularly to prevent your lips from becoming dry or chapped. Limit exposure to the sun and stress levels if possible. Healthy diet, exercise and proper amounts of sleep will help keep the immune system strong.


Early treatment of a cold sore is absolutely crucial. If treatment begins during the tingling or burning stage you can stop the blister from forming or help the cold sore heal faster once it has formed. Acyclovir (Zovirax) cream or ointment, available by prescription is the most effective topical product.


Valacyclovir, commonly known as Valtrex, improves signs and symptoms of a cold sore. The pill, which is taken by mouth twice daily for one day, reduces the duration of cold sore symptoms. The medication is well tolerated with few side effects. If you have cold sores and are interested in trying Valtrex, you should get a prescription from your doctor and have it on hand. This is so you can initiate treatment as soon as possible.


Abreva is a non-prescription medication available at our pharmacy. It is clinically proven to reduce symptoms and the length of the cold sore outbreak. Abreva is most effective is used at the first sign or symptom of a cold sore five times a day from the time of the initial symptoms for up to 10 days.


The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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