Cold Sore Myths and Treatment Options

Cold sores, those small to medium sores that occasionally pop up on your lips, are seldom dangerous. However, they can be painful, take a long time to heal, and are unattractive.  

The herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores. They are usually on the lips, where they itch, burn, ooze, and eventually scab over, lasting up to two weeks. Some people suffer from recurring cold sores (sometimes called fever blisters) that are difficult to treat. Over time, misinformation and myths about cold sores have risen. Let’s separate the facts from the fiction. 

Myth: Once a cold sore heals, it won’t come back 

Once you are infected with HSV-1, the virus never leaves the body. It can lay dormant in the body for years, then flare up when your immune system is suppressed, or you are stressed. Because the HSV-1 virus causes cold sores, they often return. 

Myth: Only adults have cold sores Picture depicting cold sore on lips

Because HSV-1 is highly contagious, children often catch it from someone close to them. Kissing, sharing a drink, or eating from the same spoon as someone with a cold sore can spread the infection. Children often become sick the first time they have a cold sore. Common symptoms in children include fever, sore throat, and blisters on the lips. 

Myth: Cold sores are caused by the common cold 

Although you may be more likely to develop a cold sore when you have the common cold, the respiratory infection does not cause blisters. Many possible triggers can activate the HSV-1 virus, including stress, illness, hormonal changes, lip trauma, and exhaustion. Your suppressed immune system triggers the dormant virus. 

Myth: If it’s not on your lips, it isn’t a cold sore 

The lips are the most common place for a cold sore to erupt, but you can also get them on your tongue or the inside of the cheeks. In rare circumstances, you can even transfer the virus to your eyes if you touch a cold sore and then rub your eyes. Oral contact can also pass the virus to your partner’s lips or genitals. 

Myth: If you have a cold sore, you have genital herpes 

It isn’t as simple as that. Most cold sores are caused by HSV-1, a different virus than the one that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). They are closely related but not the same. However, either version of the virus can be transmitted to the lips or genitals through direct contact during an active outbreak.  

Truth: Cold sores can be treated 

Although the virus never completely leaves your system, appropriate treatment can dramatically shorten the length of an outbreak. If you have a cold sore, you can shorten the duration using an over-the-counter medicine containing docosanol. There are also OTC treatments that address the pain and itch. If you have frequent outbreaks, your doctor may prescribe acyclovir as an ointment or pill.  

Truth: Laser treatment of cold sores is effective 

The newest treatment option for cold sores is laser light therapy. The laser is a highly targeted light and energy source that kills the virus in the center of the cold sore, which heals much faster and does not return to the same spot. 

If you feel a cold sore coming on (itchy lips, a tingling sensation), contact our office as soon as possible. The sooner your cold sore is treated, the more effective it is. Laser therapy stops the cold sore’s progression, speeds healing, and greatly reduces the chances that it will return to that location.  

Benefits of Laser Therapy for Cold Sores 

  • Treatment is painless 
  • Fastest healing time available 
  • Immediate relief
  • Reduces recurrence of cold sores
  • Reduces the intensity of future flare-ups
  • Stops progress of the sore

Tonka Smiles offers laser therapy for cold sores. Treatment when the area is tingling but before the sore erupts can prevent the outbreak completely. An active sore heals within a few days rather than two weeks, with immediate pain relief. If you feel a cold sore coming on, call our office at Tonka Smiles Phone Number 952-938-8533 to schedule an appointment.