In the UK, it is estimated that 75% of the population carry the herpes simplex virus which causes cold sores, with 20% of people in a growing UK population suffering from recurring cold sores. Despite their prevalence, there are a number of old wives’ tales and myths surrounding the subject which can cause confusion amongst sufferers.
Here, Consultant Dermatologist and Blistex Lip Care Expert, Dr Emma Wedgeworth, separates fact from fiction and debunks many of the common myths surrounding the condition.
Cold sores are caused by a virus – FACT
“Cold sores are caused by a virus known as the herpes simplex virus (HSV) which is a highly contagious infection. There are 2 types of HSV – type 1 and type 2, with cold sores usually caused by HSV-1”.
A cold sore gives no warning before appearing – MYTH
“It may seem like a cold sore comes out of the blue, however there are a few signs to look out for which is your body’s way of telling you an outbreak is on the way. Tingling, itching, pain and numbness may all be signs that you are likely to develop a cold sore. These symptoms may occur hours to days before an outbreak and are known as the ‘prodrome’”.
Cold sores only develop on your lips – MYTH
“This is a very common myth! Whilst the herpes simplex virus type 1 is most likely to occur around the mouth, it can also occur anywhere on the body; often on the face or the fingers. Herpes simplex virus type 2 most often affects the genital region”.
You can prevent a cold sore from developing – FACT
“In terms of lifestyle, stress and being run down can contribute to the development of cold sores, so looking after yourself, eating well and getting plenty of sleep is important. Anti-viral treatment creams such as Blistex Cold Sore Cream can prevent cold sores from developing fully when used at the first sign of an outbreak (which is generally when you feel a ‘tingle’). The active ingredient Docosanol works earlier than other actives to penetrate the skin cell in the lip area to block the virus from entering. Some people suffer from very frequent or severe outbreaks which may require taking tablets on a regular basis to stop the attacks from developing. This should only be considered for more severe cases”.
Cold sores only occur during winter – MYTH
“Many people may be surprised to hear that sunlight is a common trigger for cold sores, so if you do suffer from cold sores, using sun protection during summer months can be helpful”.
Cold sores are very common - FACT
“Cold sores are more common than you may think. It is thought that the majority of people in this country have been exposed to the cold sore virus and a third of people will go on to develop symptoms at some stage”.
Cold sores can take up to 2 weeks to disappear – FACT
“The first time you get a cold sore it can last for quite a long time – up to 2 weeks - and can be more severe and painful. Once you have caught the virus, it sits within your body and can reactivate at any time. Subsequent episodes are often less severe and may only last a couple of days, although there is no hard and fast rule”.
Women suffer with cold sores more than men – MYTH
“When it comes to cold sores, men and women have an equal chance of developing a cold sore, although some women may find that their period can trigger an outbreak”.
You can only catch a cold sore through kissing an infected person – MYTH
“In the vast majority of cases, you catch a cold sore through direct contact with the skin affected by the virus. In reality, kissing is the most likely way you would catch a cold sore, although if infected saliva or oral secretions were on a lipstick or cup that was immediately shared, there may be a very small risk of transmission. It is worth noting that people may shed the virus even when they don’t have signs of the cold sore”.