Cold Sores: What They are and What to Do with Them

If you’ve always been wondering what those blisters on lips that sometimes pop out to cause pain and a burning sensation are, this article is for you. It’s very unlikely that you will manage to get rid of the underlying virus, but it’s possible help your body make it behave. To facilitate the task, researchers have recently introduced a new vaccine.

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What are cold sores?

Cold sores, which have a scientific name of herpes, usually start as insignificant tingling, only to develop into a full-scale war raging on skin. Two armies are battling there: one of them is the immune system trying to defend the body, and the other one is a kind of herpes virus, which can be of different types: either HSV-1 or HSV-2. The former is found in almost every person: according to statistics, 2/3 of the world population harbour HSV-1. It’s a type causing those cold sores on lips capable of spoiling any makeup. The latter, called HSV-2, is not rare, though more difficult to find: it is reported that it’s found in 10% of the population. It’s even nastier, as it is genital herpes.

HSV-1 and HSV-2 differ in the place where the symptoms manifest themselves: while HSV-1 causes oral herpes, the HSV-2 type is a genital infection. However, it seems that this pattern is shifting, as more people with HSV-1 are saying their virus prefers to show up not as an oral infection, but as a genital one.

There are certain population groups that are at a higher risk of becoming home to the virus, and these include minority groups, urbanites and women, which is explained by common lifestyle peculiarities of these groups.

Can I get rid of it?

No. One of the most interesting things about herpes is the mechanisms it uses to evade the immune system. While most of the time the virus remains dormant and waits for the body to let its guard down, it can pop out suddenly following some other illness, stress or the factor which triggers herpes in your particular case. In some people, blisters on lips appear when it’s cold or sunny, so avoiding triggers is one of the best strategies.

You cannot eliminate the virus from your body completely, but you can help cold sores break open and crust over faster. Yes, the virus stays in your body for as long as you live, but you can fight it two ways.

  • First, you can try using creams which contain acyclovir. Still, such creams can usually contribute to faster healing only when the outbreak has not occurred yet: they should be used when you feel there is tingling signaling the virus has woken up. In most cases, it does not help much when there’s already a red sore on your lip. This approach is aimed at trying to prevent the virus from turning your skin into a field of reddish bubbles.
  • Second, you can alleviate the symptoms when it’s too late for acyclovir: ice, pain relievers and aloe vera gels can be nice options to numb the pain associated with cold sores.

Besides, we recommend that you do not touch your eyes when you have cold sores, because chances are you can have the same nasty blisters on your eyelids, should your hands have traces of your saliva with the virus on them. To avoid spreading the sore to other body parts, do not touch it, except for cases when you want to apply cream.

New vaccine being tested

As of the beginning of 2018, there is no known effective vaccine which would be capable of keeping the herpes virus at bay. However, there are several research teams working on herpes vaccines, and one of them looks especially promising. It is being developed by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. They have already tested the vaccine in macaques and guinea pigs, and the results suggest that the solution is the most advanced one we have, as it is capable of helping protect the body from infection. It’s not designed to eliminate the virus completely once it’s there, but it can be used in those who do not have HSV-1/2 yet. The new vaccine is supposed to be tested in humans in a couple of years.

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