Even though cold sores affect over a third of all Australian adults, there is still much confusion and various myths amongst sufferers and non-sufferers alike about what causes them.
Here are five of the most common myths when it comes to cold sores:
Cold Sore Myth # 1 – Cold Sores are caused by poor diet
A poor diet can make a cold sore reoccurrence more likely but cold sores are not actually caused by what you eat or drink. Instead cold sores are caused by a tiny virus called Herpes simplex virus or HSV.
Once you catch the cold sore virus it remains in the body until it is “activated” and causes symptoms, such as a little cluster of blisters on the lip. Things like poor diet, stress, hormones, extreme changes in the temperature and being sick can sometimes contribute to the cold sore virus becoming active.
Tip: If you are already prone to having a cold sore then what you eat can make a difference. In addition to eating as healthily as possible, try avoiding or reducing foods such as chocolate and nuts which are both high in the amino acid Arginine and low in the amino acid Lysine. Arginine is an amino acid which can aggravate the cold sore virus for some people, especially if it is not balanced by a proportional amount of Lysine in the diet.
Cold Sore Myth #.2 – Cold Sores ‘pop up’ in winter after a cold or flu
Also called fever blisters, cold sores have earned their nickname because they can appear after a person has been ill or had a fever. Since we are more likely to catch a cold or flu during winter these colder months are often referred to as the “cold sore season”.
However, cold sores can strike at any time of the year and are common in summer months too. This is because UV sun exposure can irritate the delicate skin on the lips which can sometimes trigger a cold sore.
Tip: Taking an immune boosting product during winter and using a moisturising lip balm with SPF 15+ sun block during summer can help to prevent a cold sore attack.
Cold Sore Myth #.3 – Cold sores take several days to heal
Not necessarily so, it really depends on how your body naturally responds to the cold sore virus, your particular symptoms and what treatment you use – if any. Some people prefer to just ‘ride it out’ or use a home remedy to try and prevent or clear the blisters such as applying cold tea bags, ice, honey or dabbing alcohol.
A typical cold sore will go away in 1 to 2 weeks if no treatment is used. However, there are now clinically trialled cold sore products which can help to speed healing, so it may not always be necessary to hide the days away waiting for a cold sore to clear.
Cold Sore Myth #.4 – If someone in your family gets cold sores you will get them too
No, not necessarily true. Cold sores are not a genetic condition, meaning they are not passed on from a parent to a child in the DNA or genes. Cold sores are spread by direct contact with the virus while it is active on the skin’s surface.
For example, if you kiss someone while you have an active cold sore this could spread the infection to the person who you kissed.
Tip: To prevent spreading a cold sore, do not kiss another person whenever you notice symptoms or feel one coming on. This includes from the first moment you feel symptoms until the skin has completely healed.
Cold Sore Myth #.5 – Cold sores can be spread via a person’s saliva
This is a misconception. Cold sores are not spread via body fluids such as saliva or blood. Cold sores can however be spread via an object if it has come into direct contact with the active cold sore virus and then touches healthy skin shortly after, such as through sharing the same drinking glass, lip gloss or cigarette while a person has a cold sore.
Tip: Do not share drinks, make-up, food, utensils, cigarettes or other inanimate objects that come into contact with your mouth whenever you see or feel cold sore symptoms.