Cold sores usually sneak up on you when you want to look your best. Take comfort from the fact that they feel worse than they look.
✤ Cold sores are red swellings with blisters in the middle that usually appear around your mouth. They are caused by a virus – herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) – which is related to, but otherwise has nothing to do with HSV-2, which causes genital herpes.
✤ You catch HSV-1 by close contact. Kissing someone who has it will do it. And they don't need a visible cold sore at the time to be infectious.
✤ The first infection, which often happens in children, may go unnoticed but it can produce severe symptoms, especially in the under fives, who may get mouth sores, swollen gums and sore throat and fever. After the primary infection, the virus travels up the nerves where it sits waiting to be reactivated. Any recurrent infection tends to result only in cold sores. Sometimes the sores pop up in the same place and they may be triggered by strong sunshine (so wear sun block), stress or tiredness, and some women find they are prone to get them pre-menstrually.
✤ You may know you're getting a cold sore because the site starts tingling, and within a day or two one or more blisters appear. The blisters hurt and may leak some fluid before drying and forming a scab, which falls off within a week to 10 days. Don't pick the blisters as the virus can spread around your face, and worse, you may rub it into your eyes and cause a nasty infection.
✤ If you are not sure that your sore is a cold sore (for example if it is very big or bleeds), or if it has spread around your face, you should see your doctor.
✤ Otherwise you don't need to treat your cold sore; it will get better on its own. You can try to soothe it with creams such as Bonjela (which contains aspirin and therefore is not suitable for under 16 year olds). If you apply cream to your cold sore, wash your hands afterwards.
✤ You can buy anti-viral cold sore creams, which contain drugs such as acyclovir or penciclovir, from the chemist but you need to apply them regularly throughout the day, as soon as you feel the tingling, before the sore appears. However, studies suggest that these creams reduce the length of time you have the cold sore only by about half a day.