Cold Sores Signs and Treatments

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is extremely common. There are two main forms of the virus: HSV-1 and HSV- 2. HSV-1 is generally the cause of cold sores (also called fever blisters or herpetic lesions), which appear as annoying, painful breakouts around the mouth. While it’s not always possible to prevent cold sores from forming, Dr. Marc Lazare, a renowned general & cosmetic dentist, offers preventative care and relief for patients who need cold sore treatment in New York City, NY.

Cold SoreHSV-1 and Cold Sores Explained

Most people are familiar with HSV-1, as it is a very common problem that causes fever blisters to occur intermittently around the mouth and lips. While HSV-1 presents in physical symptoms around the mouth, the virus is an infection within the body’s nervous system.

How HSV-1 is Transmitted

The virus is passed from one person to another through microscopic tears in the skin or the tissues inside the mouth. A person may have an active HSV-1 infection, yet show no symptoms. This is often how the disease is transmitted.

When oral-facial lesions are not present, a person may be contagious, or the virus may be dormant in nearby nerves. Fever blisters can be spread through common direct or indirect skin contact. Kissing, contact with saliva, and sharing items like eating utensils, drinks, lip balm, and razors can all transmit the virus from person to person.

Man looking at mouth in the mirrorFrequency and Causes of Cold Sore Breakouts

Some people may have flare-ups that are years apart, months apart, or fairly frequently. While there may not always be an obvious reason for an outbreak, sometimes cold sores are brought on by stress or a weakened immune system, such as when a person is fighting a cold or another illness. In others, there is no way to predict what may cause fever blisters to appear.

Cold Sore Stages & Symptoms

Lesions of the lips can be uncomfortable and disfiguring, lasting on average between 7-10 days, though they can remain visible for up to two weeks. The first symptom that an outbreak may be occurring is a tingling of the area where the sore will appear, sometimes accompanied by a fever or swollen glands.

As the flare-up progresses, the skin may be itchy and red, and lesions will appear in one or more areas of the lips, typically the corners of the lips or on the lips themselves. Blisters will form and may rupture a clear fluid before developing an outer crust.

Cold sores can be very itchy, painful and a great source of discomfort. Most people also find them very embarrassing and impossible to hide. Fortunately, there are several ways to control HSV-1, from antiviral medications to topical ointments.

The Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2

Unfortunately, both forms of the herpes simplex virus tend to be associated with some level of stigma. This is because the virus is contagious, associated with sexual activity, and there is no known herpes cure—people who have the virus have it for life.

While HSV-1 is often acquired during childhood through everyday interactions, HSV-2 is sexually transmitted. This form of the virus creates lesions in the genital area that are known as genital warts.

HSV-1 (often known by the term “mouth herpes”) is much more common than HSV-2, involves less stigma, and is typically easier to manage. HSV-1 affects half or more of people globally, while HSV-2 affects a much smaller percentage of the population.

Cold Sores vs. Canker Sores

In addition to confusion about the differences between the two types of herpes simplex virus, there is also a lot of confusion surrounding the difference between cold sores and canker sores.

As explained above, cold sores are the result of a contagious virus, HSV-1, spread from person to person. The sores typically occur on the external mouth, or less commonly, other areas of the face like the cheeks or chin. Many people test positive for this virus, though some will never show symptoms.

Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are non-contagious lesions that cannot be passed between people. They occur on the soft tissue of the oral cavity, including the cheeks, tongue, and inside the lips.

The exact cause of canker sores is unknown, but there is a familial link, and young people and women tend to be more susceptible. Many people notice the ulcers after they have eaten acidic or spicy foods, or experience some other intraoral irritation. Canker sores only affect about 20% of people. Cold sores and canker sores are not at all related.

Woman with pain on her lipCold Sore Treatment Options

There is no cure for herpes, but there are cold sore treatments that can help prevent and control a person’s HSV-1 symptoms. So how to get rid of cold sores? For most people, over-the-counter medications are sufficient for finding relief from the occasional cold sore outbreak.

For some people who suffer from frequent outbreaks, treatment with a dentist or physician may be necessary. Prescription medications like Valtrex or acyclovir address the viral components of HSV-1. There is also a unique treatment option offered by aesthetic dentists, dermatologists, and physicians: laser treatment for cold sores.

When patients feel a cold sore beginning to form, they can schedule an appointment with Dr. Lazare to prevent the lesions from progressing. In existing cold sores, laser cold sore treatment can significantly cut down the standard healing time.

Benefits of Laser Treatment for HSV-1 Lesions

Laser treatment takes only a few minutes and provides many benefits for those who suffer from cold sores. Treatment is painless and there is no need for anesthesia, so patients can get relief and then get back to their normal routines right away.

Light therapy for cold sores is now the gold standard in HSV-1 treatment due to the minimal risks involved and the impressive effectiveness of the treatments. Dr. Lazare offers this option because the treatments not only offer relief but also destroy the local virus where cold sores form. Though the treatment cannot cure HSV-1, it can provide more than just temporary benefits.

Laser treatment for cold sores can reduce flare-ups, and may even prevent future outbreaks. Herpetic lesions tend to form on the same areas over and over again. After undergoing laser therapy, however, some patients have noticed that the treated site is cleared permanently.

The Cold Sore Laser Treatment Procedure in New York City, NY

Cold sore laser treatment in New York City takes place in Dr. Lazare’s comfortable dental office. Patients must wear eye protection while Dr. Lazare operates a handheld device at a specific wavelength. No anesthesia is needed for a cold sore laser session.

The laser light penetrates the skin, though the laser tip never touches the patient. Then, the light effectively explodes the virus that causes cold sores to form. The body then cues the healing process to begin. The procedure is not painful, but cold air may be blown at the skin during the procedure for patient comfort.

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