Cold sores, anyone who gets them dreads them. We know that they are caused by HSV-1 and that they are contagious. We also know that they are painful and can make us feel self-conscious. However, what you may not know is that popping those sores is a bad idea.
Popping the sores will cause them to be more painful. It can also cause them to take longer to heal and can lead to scarring. But it can feel so tempting to pop them because they are so itchy and are right on the surface.
If you are looking for ways to help soothe your sores without popping them, try using a lip balm that contains menthol or camphor. You can also try using a topical cream that contains lidocaine. These can help to numb the area and help to lessen the pain of the sores.
Read on to find out more about your cold sores, how you can relieve the pain they cause, and other ways you can help to heal them.
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters that form on or near the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV-1 usually causes cold sores, while HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes.
Cold sores are contagious and can be spread by kissing or sharing cups, utensils, or other items with someone who has the virus. They can also be spread by sharing lip balm or lipstick.
Most people who get cold sores will have them for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for HSV. However, there are treatments that can help to reduce the frequency and severity of cold sores.
What Are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?
Cold sores typically start with a tingling, itching, or burning sensation. This is followed by a small bump that turns into a fluid-filled blister. The blister then breaks and leaks fluid. A scab then forms over the sore and it eventually heals.
You can also experience other symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, fever, and headache. Cold sores are usually most painful during the blistering stage, and often go away within two to four weeks. The virus that causes cold sores is most contagious when the sores are oozing fluid, but can still be contagious even when they are scabbed over.
When the virus that causes cold sores is present on your skin, it can be spread to other people even if you don't have any visible sores, so it's important to practice good hygiene and avoid sharing personal items like towels or razors.
Why You Should Never Pop a Cold Sore
Cold sores are often painful, and can be extremely embarrassing. But there are some very good reasons why you should never pop a cold sore.
First, popping a cold sore can cause it to spread. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, and when you pop a cold sore, you can release more of the virus into your system. This can cause new cold sores to form, and can make existing cold sores worse.
Second, popping a cold sore can cause it to bleed. This can lead to an infection, which can be very dangerous. Scaring can also occur, which can be permanent, and even make future cold sores more likely to become infected, as the skin becomes thicker and more difficult for the virus and your white blood cells to fight off.
Lastly, popping a cold sore can be extremely painful. The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores by attacking the nerve endings in your skin. When you pop a cold sore, you are essentially causing the virus to attack those nerve endings even more, which can lead to a great deal of pain.
Popping a cold sore is never a good idea, but what are the alternatives?
The Immune System and the Core Sore
Your immune system is constantly working to protect you from infection and disease. One way it does this is by identifying and attacking foreign substances in your body, such as bacteria and viruses.
HSV-1 infection can cause sores or breaks in the skin or mucous membranes (linings of the mouth, nose, and genitals), which can allow viruses, bacteria, and other organisms to enter the body and cause infection. The sores usually heal within 2–4 weeks, but the viruses can remain in the body and cause outbreaks of symptoms (known as recurrent herpes) at any time.
White blood cells are an important part of the immune system. They help to protect the body by attacking and destroying viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances. These, and other immune cells, are found in large numbers at the site of a HSV-1 infection, where they help to fight the infection.
This can cause the immune system to become activated and produce inflammation. The inflammation can then lead to the development of a core sore. A core sore is a deep, painful ulcer that is often slow to heal. But even if they blister, they should never be popped.
The immune system is also important for keeping the herpes virus in check. If the immune system is not working properly, the virus can spread more easily and cause more frequent and severe outbreaks.
The Stages of Cold Sores
The stages of a cold sore are as follows:
Stage 1: Also called the prodrome stage, you may experience a tingling, itching, or burning sensation around your mouth or nose.
Stage 2: The blister stage starts with the appearance of a small, hard, red bump that eventually develops into a group of small blisters. One large blister may also form.
Stage 3: During the ulcer stage, the blisters break open, ooze, and crust over.
Stage 4: The healing stage is when the crusting is complete and the sore begins to heal.
Stage 5: The final stage is called the latent stage. The virus is inactive during this time and the sore is healed.
The stages can last anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with the prodrome stage, you should take steps to prevent the cold sore from developing.
Effective Treatments of Cold Sores
There are a number of ways that you can prevent cold sores from developing, and there are also a number of ways to treat them once they have developed.
Preventing a cold sore from developing gets easier with time. The longer you have cold sores, the more likely you can feel one coming on. Other tips include:
- Avoiding close contact with people who have cold sores.
- Avoiding sharing utensils, towels, or other items with someone who has a cold sore.
- Avoiding touching your own lips if you have a cold sore.
- Using a lip balm or cream that contains an antiviral medication.
- Applying a sunscreen to your lips.
If you cold sore has already developed, there are a number of ways to treat it. These include:
- Applying a lip balm or cream that contains an antiviral medication.
- Applying a cold, damp cloth to the sore.
- Taking over-the-counter pain medication.
- Prescription antiviral medication.
Your doctor may prescribe you an antiviral medication if you have frequent or severe cold sores. These drugs work by interfering with the ability of the virus to replicate, which can help to speed up the healing process, as well as reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.
If you have a particularly severe sore, or if you get cold sores frequently, you may also be interested in talking to your doctor about other treatment options, such as oral antiviral medication, which can be taken daily to help prevent cold sores from developing.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.