Dentist in Balham, London

40 Balham High Road
Balham, London SW12 9AQ

Telephone: 0208 675 7307

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TELL ME ABOUT > Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus TYPE 1 (HSV1). About 1 in 5 people in the UK have recurrent cold sores. Some people have cold sores frequently, others only occasionally.

How do cold sores occur?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. You usually get a first cold sore when you are a child. The virus usually infects through the moist 'inner' skin that lines the mouth. It is commonly passed on by close contact such as kisses from a family member who has a cold sore.

Herpes Virus
  After the first infection, the virus settles in a nearby nerve and remains there for the rest of your life. For most of the time, the virus lies dormant (inactive) and causes no symptoms.

However, in some people the virus becomes 'active' from time to time. When activated, the virus multiplies and travels down the nerve to cause cold sore blisters around the mouth. Some people have cold sores often, others only now and then.

It is not clear what causes the dormant virus to become active. Some things may 'trigger' the virus to activate and cause a cold sore. These include:

  • Illness. Cold sores may occur during feverish illnesses such as colds, coughs, and flu.
  • Menstruation. Cold sores are common around the time of monthly periods.
  • Emotion. Stress or just being 'run down' for one of many reasons.
  • Sunshine. Strong, direct sunlight may trigger cold sores in some people.

What are the symptoms?
First signs are usually tingling, burning or itching. Within around 24 hours fluid filled blisters form which can be very painful. In a few days, the blisters breakdown into shallow ulcers. The sores become covered by scabs that, typically, fall off after 8 to 10 days. The virus can spread until the sores are completely covered by scabs.

The cold sores are infectious from the early tingling stage up to the end of the ulcer phase. Healing is normally complete in 10 to 14 days.

Who is affected?
Cold sores are common. Outbreaks become less frequent as a child gets older. Most adults have antibodies to the cold sore virus suggesting that during childhood we all come into contact with the virus but while some develop immunity others get the sores.

How is Herpes Spread?
Herpes is most easily spread when a sore is present, but, it is also often spread at other times too.

Some people notice itching, tingling or other sensations before they see anything on their skin. These are called "Prodromal Symptoms" and they warn that the virus may be present on the skin.

Herpes is most likely to be spread from the time these first symptoms are noticed until the area is completely healed and the skin looks normal again.
Herpes Capsid

Can cold sores be passed on to other people?
Yes. Avoid kissing when you have a cold. Also, you should not share cups, towels, facecloths, etc, when you have a cold sore. However, you are not usually infectious when you have no symptoms and the virus is dormant.

Prevent herpes infections by avoiding contact with sores and by good hygiene

  • If you have herpes blisters or sores on your lips, do not get your mouth close to babies. Wash your hands very well before touching babies.
  • If you have herpes blisters or sores on your lips, do not kiss anyone anywhere
  • Keep toys clean and limit saliva contact among children.
  • Wear gloves if touching open herpes lesions.

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