Cold Sores: Get the Facts!

iStock_000019984196MediumAlso known as Oral Herpes or Fever Blisters, cold sores are an infection of the face or mouth. They are most often caused by a viral disease of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) but can more rarely be the result of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-1) which is most commonly associated with Genital Herpes. It is estimated that as many as 70% of the general population have one of the two types of the virus.

How can someone contract Oral Herpes?

Once a person has been infected by Herpes, the virus remains in the body for life; there is presently no cure for it. It is passed on from one person to another by direct physical or indirect contact so it is important to take appropriate precautions before being sexually intimate with someone, or before kissing or sharing:

  • lipstick or lipbalm
  • cigarettes (but you know how I feel about smoking to begin with!)
  • toothbrushes
  • razors
  • towels and washcloths
  • straws and drinking glasses
  • eating utensils

While HSV-1 usually resides in the area of the mouth and HSV-2 in the genital region, both can reside in either part of the body. Many individuals are not aware of this and as a result, there is a growing number of HSV-1 genital cases due to individuals not taking appropriate measures to stop the spread of the disease.

Can I get a cold sore from someone who doesn’t have an outbreak?

While the chances are certainly significantly higher of contracting the disease if you come into contact with someone who is in the middle of an outbreak, you can still get herpes if there are no visible sores.

What causes outbreaks?

While Herpes never goes away, outbreaks can come and go. There are certain things that can trigger an outbreak, including:

  • hormonal changes
  • stress and fatigue
  • trauma to the mouth
  • illness and immune disorders
  • exposure to sun
  • cold weather

Treatment of Oral Herpes

As I mentioned earlier, there is no cure for Herpes. There are, however, some effective treatments for Herpes outbreaks that can lessen the intensity and duration of a breakout. Some people do find relief with over-the-counter medications but there are also several highly effective prescription medications, both topical (creams and gels) and oral (pills) that your dentist or family doctor can prescribe. Pain-relieving medications such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®), aspirin or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil®, Motrin®. etc. can also offer relief from the discomfort associated with cold sores.

Steven Deskin is a Dentist in general practice.

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