Cold sores are an extremely common condition, which many people experience during their lives. These irritating blisters and scabs are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Many people come into contact with this virus without even realizing, often during childhood. Unfortunately, there is no cure for cold sores available.
The first sign that you’ve come into contact with HSV-1 is the appearance of a cold sore. This could be days, week, months or even years after you first picked up the virus. It’s possible for HSV-1 to lie dormant for long periods without any signs or symptoms.
HSV-1 can’t currently be cured – but the symptoms can be alleviated with treatment. It’s easy to spot the signs and symptoms, you don’t need to be a medical professional to do so. However, the symptoms can vary depending on whether you’re experiencing a primary or recurrent infection.
In this article, we’re going to look at the cold sore symptoms you’ll experience with a primary and recurrent infection. We’ll also examine how long cold sores typically last, as well as how to prevent them from spreading.
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Firstly, we need to take a look at the difference between a primary and recurrent infection. A primary infection is your first exposure to a pathogen. For viruses like HSV-1, this may or may not result in obvious symptoms. You might see immediate cold sores forming around the mouth or on the skin, or the virus may lie dormant in the body before making itself apparent.
When you experience a primary infection, the symptoms are often the most severe they will ever be. This is because your body currently has no defense against the infection. There are no antibodies in your system to help fight the symptoms.
Eventually, your body will fight off the symptoms of HSV-1. Your cold sores will die down, and your skin will return to normal. But the virus still lingers in the system. This can cause what’s known as a recurrent infection.
It’s important to remember that the symptoms vary from person to person. Some may experience a very strong reaction to their first HSV-1 infection, while others might get off relatively lightly. You may experience some or all of the following symptoms with a first-time cold sore:
Your reaction to the first occurrence of HSV-1 will depend on your body’s unique configuration. Everyone’s immune system is unique – some will be better equipped to fight off viruses than others. You may find that you experience slightly swollen lymph nodes and sores around the mouth only. A few could experience all of the symptoms listed above and more.
It’s important to have an awareness of how an infection might affect you. That way you can take action to reduce the symptoms and side-effects. For example, if you’re aware you may have trouble eating and drinking, you can stock up on straws for your drinks, as well as soft foods like soup and mousse. If you’re prone to headaches when suffering from a virus, you can make sure you have plenty of painkillers available.
If you’re experiencing a primary cold sore, there are a range of treatments you can try to alleviate the problem. Painkillers may be your first port of call – paracetamol and ibuprofen are excellent at relieving moderate pain.
There are also some products on the market which can help with the localized pain around the mouth. Dental gel with choline salicylate may help to numb any pain you’re experiencing in or around the mouth. Benzydamine mouthwash or chlorhexidine mouthwash can also help to minimize pain and ensure your mouth is kept clean – especially if you’re finding it hard to brush your teeth.
Antiviral medicine such as acyclovir is often prescribed to those with very serious cold sores. It is prescribed in tablet form and can help prevent the virus from multiplying and making symptoms worse. This medication could be taken early in the infection. It may not be as effective if taken once the blisters are well-established. This is because the infection is already at its peak.
Here are some tips to help you recover from your primary infection. And remember: it’s not likely to be this bad again. Once you’ve got over these symptoms, you’re through the worst of it.
After your primary infection dies down, you’ll still carry HSV-1 around with you for the rest of your life. As we’ve already covered, this gives you a 1 in 5 chance of a recurrent infection. Many people infected with HSV-1 experience what’s known as ‘prodrome.’ This means you’ll be able to identify some of the symptoms before they become visually evident.
The most common symptoms that haven’t visually appeared yet are tingling, burning or itching in a concentrated spot, usually near the lips. You might also experience numbness in the affected area. This can happen for hours or days before the visual signs of a cold sore start to show themselves.
The visual signs are unmistakable and easy to diagnose. You’ll start to see small blisters filled with fluid. They often appear around the edge of the mouth and lips – the medical term is gingivostomatitis. Though they’re tiny, these blisters can be very painful. They can make chewing, swallowing and even talking or yawning uncomfortably difficult.
Many people say that this is the most unpleasant stage of a recurrent cold sore because it’s usually when the virus is at its peak. You might see some swelling in the neck area as your body’s immune system starts to fight the virus.
The good news is that you should soon enter the final stage, which is less painful. The bad news is that this can be the most embarrassing and unsightly stage, with oozing, crusting scabs around the mouth. For those who work in public-facing roles or have special events planned, the final stage can be awkward and upsetting, because the scabs are so hard to hide.
The duration will vary from person to person. It will also depend on how many times you’ve experienced cold sores before. You might find that those who experience them more often can see symptoms subside much faster.
In more severe cases, such as a primary infection, they can last for much longer. If it lasts for a number of weeks and doesn’t seem to be subsiding, you should see a doctor. There’s a chance it could be linked to another medical condition, and you should seek a professional opinion.
We already know that primary infections are passed from one person to another. There’s not much you can do to avoid this – many people are unaware they carry the virus, and may not have ever exhibited any symptoms. The only way to be sure of never picking up this virus would be to avoid all human contact, forever.
When it comes to recurrent infections, some things increase your risk. These include:
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a cold sore is unavoidable. Once you start to feel the tingling of the ‘prodrome,’ there’s no way you can prevent them from forming. However, there are lots of ways in which you can treat recurrent cold sores, helping them to heal much faster.
Virulite is one of the top treatment options for those with recurrent cold sores. It’s especially suitable for those who experience cold sores very regularly. This FDA-approved device treats the condition with light technology, which helps stimulate the immune system in the affected area. This forces antibodies to flock to the site, helping the infection to heal much faster.
Virulite users have reported that healing times are cut in half when using the device, with results visible in as little as two days. The Virulite process is painless and fast, requiring just three minutes twice per day. Though the machine costs more than a conventional cream or medication, it’s an effective long-term solution to a recurrent problem.
HERP-B-GONE is also one of the most popular treatment options. This completely natural topical cream is loaded with powerful ingredients like peppermint oil and coconut oil, which can help speed up healing without any artificial substances.
Perhaps the best thing about HERP-B-GONE is that it can be used in conjunction with other recurrent cold sore treatments. You can use it if you’re taking prescription medication. It won’t interfere with these treatments, and could even help speed up recovery even further.
Quantum Super Lysine+ Cream is a fast and effective way to kick-start your treatment. Lysine is an amino acid that isn’t produced naturally by the body. It’s been known to be effective at treating and healing cold sores. As well as eating foods that are high in Lysine (pork, cheese, yogurt), you can use this cream to promote healing in the area.
The cream is also packed with moisturizing, antiseptic ingredients like olive oil and honey. Menthol is the active ingredient – it can help to reduce cracking in the awkward stage when they have scabbed over. If you crack or remove the scab while it is healing, your recovery will be set back a few days, so it’s important to use a soothing cream to ensure the scab remains whole.
If left untreated, they can lead to a range of complications and other conditions. These can be very severe and could end up causing serious damage to your body.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure. But there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing one if you’ve already experienced the primary infection. Here are some of those steps:
It’s essential that we understand the symptoms – both in their primary stage and the recurrent infection. Once we’ve established which type of infection has caused your cold sore, we’re far better equipped to fight it off and promote faster healing.
Primary infections are just about as severe as your cold sore experience will get. The first HSV-1 infection can cause a multitude of side-effects, not just the cold sores we associate with the virus. You may experience fever, headaches, trouble eating, swollen glands and a general sense of fatigue. You’ll also see your first cold sores, which can be very embarrassing and tricky to cover up.
Once you’ve recovered from your primary infection, the virus will lie dormant in your body. It could stay dormant for years and cause you no trouble whatsoever. It could also flare up within a matter of weeks or months, causing familiar sores, usually around the mouth.
The recurrent cold sores are often easier to treat. Your body will have some antibodies to help you fight against the virus this time around. If you follow the instructions for treating and recovering from recurrent infections, your experience will not be as unpleasant as the primary infection.
In some cases, you may need to see a doctor. If you already have a compromised immune system, or if you are pregnant, see a medical professional immediately when you see signs of the primary infection. You should also take care if you suffer from eczema or other skin conditions – if it reaches the affected area, it could result in an even more serious infection.
Lastly, always follow the tips to prevent cold sore recurrence. Keep yourself fit and healthy, make sure you get enough sleep and avoid sharing drinks, tobacco, lipstick, and dining utensils with anyone in your household.