When you keep getting cold sore outbreaks, it’s called recurrent herpes simplex labialis or recurrent oral herpes. It’s often caused by the type 1 herpes simplex virus or HSV-1. Cold sores are the most recognizable symptoms of oral herpes.
When you’ve got the virus, it stays in your nerves for life. However, HSV-1 is not active all the time. It stays dormant for a while and then becomes active again. Continue reading to find out what triggers your cold sore outbreaks and why you keep having them often.
What Is HSV-1?
A highly contagious STD, HSV-1 is the cause of the majority of oral herpes cases. The second type of herpes virus, HSV-2, may also cause oral herpes but it accounts for only a small percentage of oral herpes infections.
Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 3.7 billion people who have oral herpes. In many of these cases, HSV-1 was acquired without sexual contact.
That’s because the herpes virus can be transmitted simply through skin contact with a herpes blister or cold sore. This means that if someone who has cold sore kisses you, the virus will most likely be passed on to you.
Your First Cold Sore Outbreak
When you first acquire HSV-1, it’s possible that the virus will lay dormant in your system for a long time, although there are also instances when the virus becomes active soon after you contract the disease.
Your very first cold sore outbreak might actually be painful. Pain, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and headaches usually accompany a first cold sore outbreak. Some people experience extreme pain such that they’re unable to eat or drink. That could be dangerous because it can lead to dehydration.
The subsequent outbreaks, though, are usually accompanied by less severe symptoms. You may still experience some pain and muscle aches, but they shouldn’t be as severe as when you first had cold sores.
Recurrent Cold Sore Outbreaks
Once you’ve already had your first cold sore outbreak, it’s typical for recurrent outbreaks to happen. When your cold sores heal and disappear, it doesn’t mean that the virus is already gone. Rather, it means that the virus has become dormant inside your body.
It depends on the individual, but there are certain factors that are known to trigger cold sore outbreaks. For some people, exposure to sunlight can cause HSV-1 to become active again. For others, their cold sore outbreaks are triggered by stress.
For most people who have oral herpes, however, a weakened immune system is one of the most common triggers of cold sore outbreaks. If you catch a cold or another infection, it can cause your immune system to weaken, leading to another cold sore outbreak.
Other factors that can trigger a recurrent outbreak include hormonal changes, fatigue, fever, and extreme temperature. If you incur an injury to the area where your cold sores usually appear, such as if you recently had dental work done, it may also trigger the reappearance of cold sores. For women, menstruation can also be a trigger.
Dealing with Frequent Cold Sore Outbreaks
Although oral herpes does not usually pose serious health risks, frequent cold sore flareups can be very inconvenient and can cause a lot of discomforts. In order to manage your oral herpes symptoms, you’ll need to recognize the signs that tell you an outbreak is about to occur.
A day or two before cold sores actually appear on your lips or face, you will usually feel a tingling or itching feeling near your lips or on the area where your cold sores usually form. This is actually a signal that the virus is getting active once again.
If you’ve already seen a doctor, you may have already gotten a prescription for oral antiviral medications. These are medicines that can help lessen the severity of an outbreak, and they can even help shorten the duration of an outbreak.
It’s actually best to take such medications as soon as you feel that tingling or itching sensation. Although these antiviral medications like acyclovir can’t really get rid of HSV-1, they can help suppress the virus. At times, taking such medications can actually completely stop an outbreak from occurring.
You may also need to take over-the-counter pain relievers to help lessen your discomfort. If the pain is not so severe, you can try applying an ice pack or a warm cloth over the affected area to lessen the pain.
Other people prefer to use cold sore creams over oral antiviral medications. Although cold sore creams are also helpful, oral antiviral medications are usually more effective in hastening the healing process and reducing the frequency of cold sore flareups.
If you haven’t had yourself screened for HSV or don’t have a doctor’s prescription for oral antiviral medications yet, there are several home remedies and over-the-counter products that you can use whenever you have a cold sore outbreak.
Alternative Treatment Options
In truth, cold sores just heal and disappear on their own even if you don’t take any medications. However, if you’re feeling a lot of pain and discomfort whenever you have a cold sore outbreak, you may want to try the following:
Docosanol topical cream
This is a nonprescription medication that’s used for the treatment of recurrent oral herpes. You just need to apply the cream on your cold sores. Docosanol is considered helpful in shortening the duration of a cold sore flareup.
Topical anesthetic gels
These gels are used to lessen the pain caused by cold sores. While some topical anesthetic gels are used only for pain relief, there are also products that are specifically formulated to be used on cold sores. Such products usually contain antiviral medication as well.
If you want your cold sores to dry up faster, you can try applying rubbing alcohol on the affected area. However, don’t use it if it’s causing you more pain or if it just irritates your cold sores.