Anyone who's ever had a cold sore will know how annoying they are. One minute your lips are perfectly normal, the next you're hit by that familiar tingling feeling and the soreness begins. Cold sores are caused by the contagious herpes simplex virus and once you have it, it remains in your skin for your lifetime. It's extremely common, with around seven in ten people in the UK carrying a cold sore causing virus.
What causes cold sores?
The virus is passed on through kissing, sharing food or drink or by sharing cosmetic items like lipstick with an infected person. Kissing a newborn baby is particularly dangerous if you have a cold sore, as it can lead to neonatal herpes, which is harmful to infants. A cold sore flare-up can be triggered by many things including stress, a week immune system, menstruation or sun exposure.
How long do cold sores last?
The NHS website says a cold sore should begin to heal within 10 days. During this time they are contagious and normally irritating and painful. They are contagious from the second the tingling or itching begins to when the cold sore has healed over completely.
What does a cold sore look like?
A cold sore has the appearance of a blister full of fluid and looks swollen and sore. They often burst open leaking fluid, before turning into sores which then scab over after a few days. Eventually, the scab will fall off and the cold sore disappears.
Zovirax Cold Sore Cream, £4, Amazon
How can I treat a cold sore?
See your local pharmacist for advice with treating your cold sore. They are likely to recommend creams or painkillers such as ibuprofen to help ease the pain and swelling, or anti-viral creams to speed up the overall healing time. The NHS says cold sore patches are another option and protect the skin as it heals, and suggest wearing sunblock lip balm over SPF 15 if your trigger is the sun.
Are there any natural cold sore remedies I can try?
There are several natural treatments you can try to treat cold sores. Healthline.com recommends easing the symptoms by placing ice or a cold flannel on the sores. Aloe Vera gel applied three times daily can help treat cold sores, as can the natural astringent Witch Hazel. Ensure you apply any creams or gels with a clean piece of cotton wool.
Lip Clear Lysine Cold Sore Treatment, £5.49. iHerb.com
Eating the protein Lysine, found in foods such as dairy, red meat and poultry, eggs and soya can help get rid of cold sores. A family tip of my own is to apply raw egg white to the cold sore twice a day, however, this has not been medically tested.
When should I see my doctor with a cold sore?
Cold sores are common, but there are some circumstances when it's necessary to see your GP. If the cold sore has not begun to heal within 10 days, it's large and painful, you're pregnant or you are particularly worried about it, contact your doctor. If your immune system is weak or you or a child have swollen sore gums, then a trip to the doctor is called for.
Like this story? Sign up to our newsletter to get other stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.