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Cold Sores | Myths, Prevention & Treatment

Although I’ve never had a cold sore, I know many of my friends and family that suffer from frequent outbreaks. It also doesn’t seem to matter what time of year it is because about 1/3 of Canadians (both men and women) deal with cold sores year round. I actually don’t know too much about cold sores so writing this particular post has provided me with some insight and understanding about them. And of course, I want to pass along this important information to my readers and friends and hopefully it can help you or someone you know!

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What is a Cold Sore?

According to Nancy Simonot, Abreva spokesperson and pharmacist at NKS Health Pharmacy, cold sores are blisters or lesions found on or around the lips. They are caused by a reactivation of the herpes simplex type 1 virus.  They can appear as a single blister or a cluster. If left untreated, they can last between 6 to 10 days. Symptoms include pain, itchiness and redness.

This is interesting- 90% of adults carry the herpes simplex type 1 virus BUT only 20-40% of them will experience outbreaks. The average outbreaks for a cold sore suffer is two to three outbreaks a year.

The virus is contagious. Once you have it, it stays in your system. It lives dormant in your facial nerves until it is triggered and an outbreak occurs. During an outbreak, do not touch the cold sore or share items with others that come in contact with your mouth.

Cold Sore Myths

Nancy Simonot, Abreva spokesperson and pharmacist at NKS Health Pharmacy, shares some common misconceptions about cold sores. 34% of cold sore sufferers (about 1/3) believe these myths to be true.   I’ve even heard a few of these myths myself.

  • Myth: Ice on a cold sore helps heal it faster
  • Fact: Ice may temporarily provide relief from symptoms and help reduce redness and swelling, but it will not heal your cold sore.
  • Myth: Distilled vinegar prevents cold sore outbreaks
  • Fact: Vinegar helps with many things but unfortunately preventing cold sore outbreaks is not one of them.
  • Myth: Tea bags heal cold sores
  • Fact: Tea bags will not make your cold sore go away faster.
  • Myth: Ingredients like camphor, menthol and phenol can heal a cold sore
  • Fact: These ingredients will temporarily relieve symptoms and moisturize the cold sore. However they are not meant to block entry of the virus from spreading to surrounding healthy skin cells.

Cold Sore Triggers

So what triggers a cold sore? These are the most common triggers:

  • Fatigue
  • Cold Weather
  • Wind
  • Dry Skin
  • Stress
  • Hormones
  • Mouth Trauma
  • Fever, Cold, Flu
  • Menstruation
  • Sun Exposure

I knew already about stress and illness to be common triggers for cold sores. I was surprised to learn that sun exposure is a common trigger. With the long weekend almost here, many Canadians will be gearing up for camping or visits to the cottage. The nice weather is always a blessing, but cold sores are not.

Try to limit your exposure to the sun when the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 am and 3 pm. If you are outside, remember to wear sunscreen and a hat!

Cold Sore Prevention

The best defense is an offense right? There are things you can do to reduce your chances of a cold sore outbreak.

1. Stay Healthy: Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise, and eat properly to keep your immune system in tip top shape.

2. Be Mindful of the Common Triggers that Cause Cold Sore Outbreaks

3. Keep lips moisturized by drinking water and applying sunscreen year round.

4. Always have your Cold Sore Treatment (like Abreva) available so you can apply at the first sign that an outbreak is coming. It usually starts as a tingling or red bump.

Cold Sore Treatment

The #1 pharmacist recommended treatment for cold sores is Abreva. Why? It’s the only treatment that contains the patented medicine, Docosanol, that helps prevent the spread of the virus to the surrounding skin. It’s clinically proven to shorten the duration of a cold sore by 4.1 days.  It works best if you apply it as soon as you start feeling the symptoms (like tingling) and then continue to apply it on the area five times a day  until its healed (up to a maximum of 10 days).

What Would Canadians Give Up to Be Cold Sore Free?

Abreva has put together this infographic that is very eye opening and sheds some light into how people with cold sores feel.  Looking at it, I can see how much this virus affects people’s lives.

Check out the Abreva website for more information on cold sores and their treatment. 

Disclosure: I was financially compensated for this post. Opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Stacie Vaughan

Stacie is the mom of two girls and lives in Ontario, Canada. She enjoys cooking/baking, photography, reading, DIY and is fueled by lots of coffee!

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