Test your knowledge and get practical tips and tricks for managing cold sores and fever blisters.
Cold Sores 101
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When is the HSV-1 virus most transmissible?
when the cold sore is actively open and a yellow crust has formed
when the cold sore has scabbed over
the period before the cold sore has formed, when the area around the lips is tingling or itchy
from the time a cold sore first appears to when it is fully healed
Which of these can activate the herpes virus and cause a cold sore?
eating spicy foods
physical or emotional stress
chapped or cracking lips
extreme heat or cold
Answer: B, D and F
Research has shown that extreme heat and cold, physical or emotional stress, and chapped or cracked lips can lead to a cold sore flare-up. You should wear sunscreen, since UV exposure can actually lead to a cold sore. Eating spicy foods does not cause cold sores but can be painful if you already have one. Lip balm does not cause cold sores, but don’t share your lip balm if you are experiencing one.
Which one of the following symptoms would you NOT experience in the first few days after you’re exposed to the HSV-1 virus?
sores on the gums
In the first 2 to 12 days of HSV-1 infection, people often have fevers, headache, muscle pains, swollen lymph nodes, and sores inside the mouth along the gumline. Cold sores are a sign of reactivation of the virus, but don’t usually happen in this initial stage of infection, according to 2019 research.
If you have a cold sore, how can you stop the virus from spreading?
Kiss people on the cheek instead of the mouth.
Use hand sanitizer frequently.
Stay home from work or school.
Don’t share dishes, silverware, or towels.
Avoid sharing personal items while you have an active cold sore. You shouldn’t kiss anyone during this time, not even on the cheek. Instead of using hand sanitizer, just use soap and water to wash your hands, especially after touching your face. There’s no need to stay home from work or school to prevent spreading HSV-1.
The virus is contagious while a cold sore is present, according to the WHO. This means from the initial formation of a cold sore to when it is fully healed. Fluid from the sore carries the virus and can infect others. Avoid kissing, engaging in oral sex, and sharing personal items during this time.
True or False: Most people who have HSV-1 have no symptoms.
Even during the initial phase of infection, people may not have symptoms. Many people are not aware that they are infected at all. It is possible to spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms, but this is very rare.
What home treatments are best for cold sores?
warm and hot foods, such as soup or tea
acetaminophen or ibuprofen
using SPF 10 to protect your skin from sun
rubbing cream on the blister
Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the inflammation and pain of a cold sore. Warm and hot foods can be irritating, so try cool and soft foods like yogurt. Sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher to protect the infected area from UV rays. Instead of rubbing cream or ointment on a blister, dab it on to avoid irritating the area — just make sure to wash your hands with soap and water afterwards. To keep from transferring the virus to your sunscreen bottle or other products, try using a swab to apply it to the cold sore, then throw the swab away after first use.
True or False: You should see your doctor when a cold sore appears because they will probably want to prescribe antiviral medications.
If you have a healthy immune system, cold sores typically go away on their own and don’t require medication, according to experts. Antiviral ointments may speed up the healing process by a day. You can buy these with a doctor’s prescription in the United States. Start them as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on.
How did you do? If you'd like to learn more, click to read about cold sore management and prevention.
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