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Cold sores : Causes, symptoms and treatments

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Cold sores

Cold sores are also known as fever blisters. Some people frequently get cold sores while others may not get them throughout their lifetime. When they do come out, they feel very itchy and painful. Cold sores are, however, a treatable condition.

Causes

Cold sores are caused due to the Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV. These viruses are highly contagious and thrive in the moist areas of the skin that remain continuously exposed to the air. These viruses can be transmitted due to unprotected intercourse, the exchange of saliva or coming in contact with the infected vaginal or penile fluid. The viruses do not necessarily turn active as soon as they enter the body. In fact, they can remain dormant for so long that the infected person may not even know that he is a carrier.

HSV1 is usually transmitted through kissing or sharing drinks while HSV2 is more commonly spread through penetrative sex and oral sex. These viruses can be transmitted even if the carrier is not experiencing any active symptoms from it.

Symptoms

The HSV virus may stay dormant for years or manifest only as very mild symptoms. When they turn active, cold sores are the earliest symptoms. However, if they are very mild, they can also be mistaken for allergies or insect bites. On the first breakout, the cold sores have a higher chance of turning into a severe infection. However, upon being correctly identified and treated accordingly, they subside quite early. Cold sores are only an indication that the HSV virus is present in the body. The symptoms can get severe only if the body has not yet had time to build up the antibodies as a part of the defense mechanism. Cold sores are usually accompanied by

  • Lesions, blisters, and ulcers in the mouth or in and around the lips
  • Acute pain in the mouth and tongue
  • Swollen lips
  • Difficulty in swallowing food as well as drinks
  • Soreness in the throat
  • Glandular swelling
  • Increased body temperature
  • Dehydration along with nausea and headache

If the cold sores present on the lips are neglected, it can spread to the mouth and gums and the condition is known as gingivostomatitis and if the infection further spreads to the throat and tonsils, it is known as pharyngotonsillitis. If treated with care, these go away in about two weeks.

Consequences

The condition can get very complicated, especially in children where the body has not yet built up a strong defense system to fight the virus. If the cold sores are persistent along with high fever, difficulty in breathing or swallowing and red, irritated eyes, you should immediately see a doctor and take the necessary steps to prevent the infection from growing further.

Cold sores can also get severe if the infected person has eczema or an already weak immune system due to conditions such as cancer or AIDS.

Treatment

Treatment for cold sores includes external application of medicated ointments as well as consuming antiviral drugs. Acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir, and penciclovir are the most common drugs used during the treatment.

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