Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

However, every so often the virus can be activated by certain triggers, resulting in an outbreak of cold sores. These triggers vary from person to person, but can include sunlight, fatigue, an injury to the affected area, and, in women, their period.

Left untreated, herpetic keratoconjunctivitis can cause the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of your eye, to become infected, which can eventually lead to blindness.

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Cold sore

Corey, L. New England Journal of Medicine, 1986.

Some people have frequently recurring cold sores around two or three times a year, while others have one cold sore and never have another. Some people never get cold sores at all because the virus never becomes active.

The herpes simplex virus – or ‘cold sore virus’ – is highly contagious and can be easily passed from person to person by close direct contact. After someone has contracted the virus, it remains inactive (dormant) most of the time.

Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

Cold sore on lip

Antiviral tablets may be prescribed for severe cases.

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Treating cold sores

However, there’s no need to stay away from work or miss school if you or your child have a cold sore.

What about a cold sore that isn’t on your lip? They aren’t as common, but they can pop up anywhere on your face, like your cheek, chin, or nose. Most people’s cold sores reappear in the same area each time.

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Cold sores are usually mild, but may cause complications in rare cases. People with weak immune systems caused by illness or treatments such as chemotherapy are particularly at risk of complications.

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Complications of cold sores

You can help minimise the risk of the cold sore virus spreading and cold sores recurring by following the advice below:

Yes, but it’s rare. It can happen if you touch a cold sore, then touch an area of broken skin or a mucous membrane (that’s the moist, protective lining found in places where your body opens to the outside — mouth, nose, genitals). That can lead to a herpes skin infection. To prevent this, wash your hands and don’t touch the cold sore.

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Cold sore patches are also available that contain hydrocolloid gel, which is an effective treatment for skin wounds. The patch is placed over the cold sore while it heals.

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Preventing infection

An outbreak of cold sores may occur some time later and keep coming back (recurrent infection).

They can lower the amount of healing time when you take them at the first sign of a cold sore — like tingly, red, or itchy skin. You’ll start acyclovir before cold sores fully flare and take it five times a day for 5 days, or you can take valacyclovir (Valtrex) at the first sign of a cold sore and then 12 hours later. Famciclovir (Famvir) can be given as a single dose of medicine. So can acyclovir buccal (Sitavig), but instead of swallowing it you place against your gums and it releases the medicine as it dissolves.

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