Manage cold sore outbreaks

Cold sores are yet another of the woes of winter. Like the common cold and flu, there is no cure for a cold sore, which is caused by a highly contagious viral infection known as herpes simplex. You get the first episode of herpes infection from another person. After the initial infection, the virus never leaves the body. It stays dormant in the nerves near the face and can reoccur occasionally as a cold sore. The virus can be reactivated by a number of triggers including cold weather, stress, fever and fatigue.

But while there is no cure, there are ways to minimize the duration of a cold sore. Here are some top winter tips to help avoid – and manage – painful and embarrassing outbreaks.

Identify and avoid triggers . Certain triggers can reactivate the herpes virus. These include cold weather, dry lips, UV light, emotional stress, fatigue, hormones and food allergies. If you’re not sure what causes your cold sore outbreaks, start keeping a journal of what was happening in your life when your cold sore appeared. Were you under more stress than usual? Exposed to extremely cold weather? Coming down with the flu? How about hormonal changes? Figuring out your outbreak profile can be a useful tool in identifying and avoiding triggers which may cause future outbreaks.

Keep lips moisturized . Winter can be harsh on your lips, making it all the more important to use lip protectants. Be sure to protect your face and mouth with both a moisturizer and a scarf.

Rest and de-stress . Illness, fatigue and stress can weaken the immune system and lead to a cold sore outbreak. As much as possible make sleep, rest and relaxation a regular part of your day, and try to establish a routine where you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. De-stressing techniques such as meditation, relaxation therapy or yoga may also help. And remember that maintaining a healthy diet and fitness routine is especially important during stressful times.

Practice good hygiene . Washing hands on a regular basis is the best defense against cold, flu and infection. If you do experience a cold sore outbreak, it is important to wash your hands frequently from the moment you feel the first symptom. Because cold sores are highly contagious, avoid kissing and sharing any personal items such as drinking glasses, a razor or bath towel. The virus is considered to be contagious from the very first sign of an outbreak (the tingling, itching stage) until the area is completely healed again.

Take swift action at the first tingle. Cold sore sufferers usually feel the same symptoms right before a break out – they have a tingling or burning feeling, redness, itching or pain around their lips or mouth. Over the counter remedies such as abreva® and Lipactin® are proven to be effective at reducing the duration of symptoms – and even decreasing the duration of an outbreak – if applied early. abreva® works differently because it’s the only clinically proven cold sore treatment with Docosonal cream 10% – a viral entry blocking agent that speeds healing** and reduces the time you have with your cold sore. For more on treatment options, click here.

*Lipactin® is a registered trademark of Novartis Consumer Health

**4.1 days versus 4.8 days on placebo

Photo © Mark Papas