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What you should know about cold sores

Have you ever been embarrassed by cold sores or fever blisters that appear on the lips and around the mouth? What can you do to prevent or manage them better? Consider some frequently asked questions about cold sores.

What are cold sores or fever blisters? 

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).  This is usually spread through casual kissing, sharing utensils or drinks, and by touching the face. This can occur even if there is no sore because the virus may be in the saliva too.

Do you know that many children and babies are unintentionally exposed to the cold sore virus when adults kiss them or touch their face? In a recent study in Jos, 8 out of 10 children had the herpes simplex virus by the age of 6 years.

Unfortunately, once a person gets HSV, they will have it for life as the virus stays in the body. However it only becomes active when exposed to certain triggers. 

What are some of the early warning signs?

Tingling, burning, or itching may be felt around the lips for several hours or a day before the cold sore appears. This is usually the best time to take action by starting preventive treatment. 

Are there some over-the-counter products or natural remedies that may help shorten the duration of cold sores? Yes. Some have found the following home remedies or medicines useful. 

  • Dabbing the spot with  alcohol and hydrogen peroxide may help dry out the sore and speed up healing. However, do not use if it causes more pain or irritation.
  • Topical creams that soothe or contain antibiotics may be useful.
  • Ice or cold packs may relive you of discomfort.
  • Dab on a water-based zinc ointment. It helps dry out the sores so they can heal faster, and may also boost the immune system.
  • Try lemon balm. Make a tea of dried lemon balm leaves and apply it to sores with a cotton ball.
  • Avoid salty, spicy, and sour foods, because they aggravate the raw nerves in the sores.

Without treatment, the sore crusts and slowly disappear over 7 to 10 days.


What are the common triggers?

Do you know what triggers cold sores? Recognizing these triggers could help you reduce the frequency. What are some of the common cold sore triggers? These include:

  • Foods high in arginine ( a type of amino acid) such as peanuts, rice, and chocolate.
  • stress
  • an illness or surgery
  • lack of sleep
  • sun exposure or wind
  • injury to the skin
  • hormonal changes
  • Medications eg birth control pills
  • Low level of immunity

What can you do to reduce the spread of cold sores? 

  • Avoid touching, scratching, or picking at cold sores. This is because the virus clings to the hands and spread to the eyes and other people. This can lead to serious complications such as blindness. 
  • Do you wash your hands frequently? This can help keep the virus off the hands, reducing the risk of spreading it to others.
  • Avoid sharing drinks, utensils, lip products, toothpaste, towels, or any items that might touch the mouth, especially when a sore is present.
  • Avoid skin-to-skin contact with others when cold sores are present. This includes kissing, sexual contact, and contact sports.

What can you do to avoid cold sores? Eat a healthful diet, get enough sleep, exercise regularly. This helps you to boost your immunity. Learn to manage your stress and stay away from potential triggers.

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