What Is Herpes?
If you’ve ever wondered “How did I get a cold sore?” you aren’t alone. They seem to come from nowhere and they often happen at the worst possible time. In truth, cold sores, or herpes, can be transmitted in a number of ways.
Herpes is a family of viruses that cause infections and diseases. The viruses get their name from the Greek word herpein which means “to creep”. The name refers to the spread of lesions on the skin.
What Causes Cold Sores?
There are many viruses that belong to the herpes family, all of which share some of the same characteristics. For example, most cause blisters, occurring long after exposure, and result in recurring infections. Some viruses affect certain areas of the body while others might occur in almost any area. It is the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV 1) that causes cold sores.
Where Can You Get Cold Sores?
The HSV 1 virus spreads from person to person during close contact, for example while kissing. You can also get the virus by using an infected person’s toothbrush or by sharing eating utensils. The lesions, sometimes called “fever blisters”, occur on and around the lips. However, it often takes months or years following exposure for the first HSV 1 cold sore to appear. That’s the reason people often wonder “How can you get a cold sore when you haven’t been exposed to the HSV 1 virus?” In fact they have been exposed, and actually encountered the virus long before the first signs of a cold sore occurred. For those who do experience symptoms early on, they may notice the cold sores anywhere from two to twelve days after exposure.
There is no cure for the herpes virus. Once you have it, it stays with you for the rest of your life. The frequency and severity of repeat infections varies among different people. Many people never have symptoms and don’t even know they have the HSV 1 virus in their body. Some people might get one cold sore years apart from the next. Others experience frequent cold sores on their lips and entire mouth. That’s largely due to the different triggers that cause cold sore outbreaks.
Why Do Some People Get Cold Sores More Often Than Others?
Some people only occasionally get cold sore outbreaks while others seem to go from outbreak to outbreak with little time between. You must have the HSV 1 virus to get cold sores, but there are also triggers that lead to outbreaks. The herpes virus “goes into hiding” in your nerve cells, where it is safe from your immune system. Once exposed to certain triggers, the virus “wakes up” and starts replicating and spreading. Normally, the immune system helps fight off invaders like the HSV 1 virus, but the virus’ ability to stay hidden helps it to protect itself.
If you don’t know what brings on cold sores, you won’t know what to avoid and you’re more likely to experience frequent exposure to the triggers. Some common cold sore triggers include:
- Sun exposure
- A weakened immune system
- Hormonal changes including taking birth control pills
- Eating certain foods
Avoiding these and other common triggers might help you experience fewer outbreaks. Once you begin to experience the early signs of a cold sore, don’t wait to treat it. Treating a cold sore early might keep the sore from growing larger, and will help it to heal faster.
Many people who get frequent cold sores can feel them coming before it is visible on their skin. These signs might include burning, tingling, or itching. The signs occur several hours prior to the appearance of the cold sore, or up to a day before. This is the best time to apply treatment. Keeping Dynamiclear on hand will ensure you have the treatment ready whenever you need it.
How Common Are Cold Sores?
About 80% of all adults are infected with HSV 1 virus, but only about ¼ of them know it. Most become infected at a young age. The herpes virus is highly contagious, making it easy for adults to spread it to children. Children who develop early cold sore symptoms are especially vulnerable as they sometimes develop blisters inside the mouth. Once the fluid-filled blisters become sores, eating becomes painful.
In most children, the virus lies dormant until they are older. Children under the age of twelve years who have a cold sore should see a doctor before treatment is applied at home. If the initial outbreak doesn’t occur until they are twelve or older, they may use the same adult treatment that works for you.
Symptoms That Sometimes Accompany Cold Sores
Cold sores aren’t the same for everyone. Some people experience mild symptoms that go virtually unnoticed. For others, having frequent cold sores on lips means pain and other symptoms including:
- Swelling of the mouth
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
Pregnant women and new parents should be especially vigilant about treating cold sores early and protecting their baby from contact. While cold sores don’t pose any serious risks, there are exceptions. For one, getting a sore on the eye can lead to scarring of the cornea or even blindness. People with compromised immune systems are also at a higher risk of complications from the virus. This includes individuals with certain medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS or those who have undergone cancer chemotherapy.
Herpes can affect the organs in people with a weakened immune system, or spread across larger areas of the body in people with eczema.
Preventing the Spread of HSV 1 Cold Sores
Getting a cold sore isn’t fun for anyone. But for some people, it goes beyond discomfort. For those people who have the risk factors listed above, a cold sore can result in a medical emergency. People with cold sores aren’t the only ones affected. You can put those you are closest to at risk of developing a cold sore infection and possible serious side effects.
Prevention is the best approach for keeping cold sore breakouts under control. Keep Dynamiclear handy for those times when you start experiencing early cold sore symptoms. Ideally, you can prevent your cold sore from ever appearing and help protect yourself and everyone you’re close to.