Don’t warm to summer cold sores

Feeling that tingling in your lips? Head for the pharmacy

Wellbeing
Cold sores can strike in the summer months too. Photo: Shutterstock.

Cold sores can strike in the summer months too. Photo: Shutterstock.

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Cold sores aren't restricted to cooler weather and can repeatedly occur in some people.

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THINK cold sores are cool weather problem? Think again. During the warmer months, dry and burnt lips provide the ideal conditions a cold sore breakout.

And, unfortunately, cold sores can recur repeatedly.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis said cold sores can recur repeatedly.

“This is because the herpes virus (HSV-1, or herpes simplex) is able to ‘hide’ in the nerve cells and can be triggered by a range of different factors including hot or cold weather, fever, illness, and fatigue,” said Pharmacy Guild of Australia president George Tambassis.

“Anyone who has suffered from one knows that a tingling sensation in the affected area is often the first sign of an emerging cold sore.”

Triggers can include:

  • Sunburn or too much sun
  • Stress
  • Cold weather
  • Menstruation
  • Fever
  • Some foods
  • Tiredness
  • Exposure to wind

There are four main stages of the cold sore virus:

Prodomal stage – when the cold sore virus is activated. People may feel a tingling, burning feeling around the lips or nose.

Blister stage –  as the virus multiples, small red swollen areas appear on the skin. These then turn into blisters, which may last for a few days.

Ulceration stage –  the blisters burst and fluid seeps out. At this stage the virus is very contagious.

Crusting stage –  the blister dries up and becomes crusty, with the scab usually clearing up within seven days.

“At the first sign of a cold sore you need to speak to your community pharmacist who can provide advice of any treatment which may be suitable for you,” Mr Tambassis said.

“While cold sores are usually just an annoying – and often unsightly – problem for most of us, people with some types of immune-suppression are at an additional risk of the sores spreading and this may result in severe symptoms which may require special medicine.

“Complications that require treatment can include bacterial infections, which are at times characterised by redness around the blisters, a fever and pus developing within the blisters.”

Mr Tambassis warned that cold sores can spread to the eyes, fingers or other parts of the body.

“A cold sore in the eye requires immediate medical attention as sight can be affected if it is left untreated,” he said.

“Avoiding cold sores is difficult as there is no cure for them but we can reduce the risk by avoiding known triggers.

“Wearing sunscreens on the face, avoiding stress and getting run down, and looking after your general health are good basic defences.”

Mr Tambassis said another defence was avoiding activities that transmitted the virus – especially in the first few days when the blister begins to form which is when it is at its most infectious.

Direct contact or via saliva are among the most common ways of transmitting the virus. Kissing and contact with the blisters should be avoided.

People with cold sores should not share toothbrushes, cups and glasses, cutlery, towels and so on.

Interestingly, while people are often infected with the virus when they are very young, not all people will get cold sores. Latest research shows nearly everyone is infected by the virus during childhood but despite this almost blanket infection rate, some people may only get one or two attacks while others get cold sores more regularly.

Between 25-50 per cent of people develop secondary or recurrent herpes simplex infections after the first infection. However, by the time we reach adulthood, more than 90 per cent of us have anti-bodies which show that they have had a herpes simplex infection at some time during our life.

“Most cold sores usually go away on their own within seven and 10 days and so for most people are simply annoying and perhaps unsightly,” Mr Tambassis said.

“Helping people manage cold sores is an everyday part of a community pharmacist’s job.”

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