Despite their name, cold sores aren't actually caused by the virus that causes the common cold. Rather, they are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1 (HSV-1). Don't be alarmed: HSV-1 is very common, and as much as 50 percent of the population in the U.S. has it by their 20s, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Although plenty of people have the virus, many never develop a cold sore or blister. If you have HSV-1, there is no real cure, but a cold sore remedy can treat its resulting outbreaks, make them less severe or keep them from occurring altogether.
Although antiviral medications won't eliminate the virus from your system, they can help reduce the duration of a cold sore outbreak. Antiviral medications are generally most effective if taken when you first begin to feel the symptoms of a cold sore – itchiness or a tingling feeling in your lip, for instance. When taken in tablet form, the medication prevents HSV-1 from spreading through the body.This allows a cold sore to heal more quickly and keeps new sores from forming.
Antiviral medication can also come in the form of a topical cream applied to the lips to help relieve the symptoms caused by an outbreak.
Antiviral medications are usually obtained with a prescription only, but over-the-counter options are also available that can help reduce the pain and discomfort of a cold sore. These are usually topical creams that contain either an antiviral or local anaesthetic to numb the irritated area.
Some products act as local anaesthetics that numb the area to ease any discomfort caused by a cold sore. Of course, a more readily available way to desensitize the area is with a cold compress or ice pack; apply this to your lips as soon as you notice a cold sore.
When it comes to cold sores, an ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure. If you have regular outbreaks, your dentist may prescribe an antiviral medicine for you to take regularly, to help keep the virus under control. In some cases, figuring out what triggers a cold sore outbreak can help you keep them away in the long term.
For example, some people develop cold sores after spending time in the sun, so using sunscreen on the lips can help control outbreaks, as can avoiding excessive sun exposure. Still others experience outbreaks when under stress, so finding ways to manage or reduce anxiety levels can also be helpful. As the virus can spread to other people and to other parts of the body, you'll want to avoid sharing drinking glasses and utensils. Moreover, avoid touching the blister and then touching another part of your body.
Although there may be no cure for the common cold sore, there are plenty of ways to cope with it. Finding the treatment that works best for you might take a bit of trial and error, but in time you should find one that reduces outbreaks or clears them up quickly.