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How should you treat a cold sore?

Did you know that cold sores affect a pretty large amount of the population? According to GP and Dove DermaSeries and Get The Gloss Expert Dr Anita Sturnham, “Cold sores are a common condition. In fact, 6 in 10 people carry the cold sore virus but most people don't know they have it as they get no symptoms. Only a quarter of people who catch the virus actually have any visible symptoms.”

A skin issue that still carries a social stigma (and unfairly so), due to its links to herpes, we asked Dr Sturnham for her professional opinion from everything from the causes to the effective over-the-counter treatments you can buy. Here’s what we found out...

GTG: What are cold sores?

AS: As the name suggests visible symptoms can include small sores or blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. The strain of herpes simplex virus usually responsible for cold sores is known as HSV-1.

Cold sores often start with a tingling, or burning sensation around your mouth. Small fluid-filled sores or blisters will then appear, most commonly on the edges of your lip.

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GTG: Are cold sores contagious and what triggers them?

AS: 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 dormant (inactive) for most of the time.

However, every so often the virus can be activated by certain triggers. This can result in an outbreak of cold sores. These triggers really vary from person to person but can include being run down and tired, trauma to the skin, such as sun damage and some women find they are even triggered by hormonal changes and their monthly periods.

Some people have frequently recurring cold sores (around 2 or 3 times a year), while others have 1 cold sore and never have another. Some people never get cold sores at all because the virus never becomes active.

GTG: How can you treat them?

AS: Cold sores will normally clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days.

However, antiviral creams are available over the counter from pharmacies and larger supermarkets – for example Aciclovir for topical use such as Zovirax, £5.59 or Boots Cold Sore Lotion, £1.99. You won't need a prescription for these. If used correctly, these can help ease your symptoms and speed up the healing time.

To be effective, these treatments should be applied as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear, (i.e. when you feel a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth). Using an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have much of an effect.

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

Antiviral tablets may be prescribed for severe cases. If your cold sore is severe or not healing well though, you should go to see your GP. A GP will normally prescribe oral Aciclovir tablets for more severe cases.

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