Cold sores: prevention and treatment

Cold sores: prevention and treatment

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Herpes: how to prevent

According to experts, about 90 percent of Germans are infected with herpes simplex viruses (HSV). The pathogens can cause the known blisters in the mouth area (herpes in the mouth). Experts explain how to prevent and what to do about the complaints.

Many people know this: at first the lip tingles or itches and the next day it swells and small painful blisters form. The symptoms of cold sores (herpes labialis) are annoying, but usually resolve after a week or two. Some measures can help to make the symptoms more bearable.

Viruses do not cause symptoms in all infected people

As the Federal Ministry of Education and Research explains in an older communication, 90 percent of Germans carry the type 1 herpes simplex virus. Many people do not notice anything because they have no complaints.

Anyone who has been infected with these viruses will never get rid of them for the rest of their lives.

The pathogens are usually at rest. Only when the immune system is weakened, for example in the case of infectious diseases such as colds, fever, stress or strong sunlight, do the herpes viruses become active again and can cause the known blisters in the mouth area (herpes in the mouth).

According to the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK), the first HSV contact (initial infection) only causes complaints in up to ten percent of those affected.

Fever and general malaise may occur. The mucous membrane and skin show standing and dented vesicles, the affected area is inflamed.

As the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) explains on the portal "", the lip tingles or itches in many people a few hours or a day before visible blisters form. As these heal, crusts can form, which can also tear and bleed easily.

According to the experts, it takes about a week or two for the cold sore to go away.

Certain stimuli activate the pathogens

In the article, IQWiG explains that there are certain stimuli that activate the herpes virus, for example:

  • UV rays (from sunlight or in the solarium)
  • very hot or cold temperatures
  • small injuries and cracks on the lips
  • physical or mental stress

To reduce the risk of an outbreak, you can try to avoid such factors as much as possible. The use of sunscreen and good lip care are also options that can be tried out.

If the virus breaks out very often and leads to cold sores, preventive treatment with medication can also be considered. However, little research has been done into how well it protects against cold sores.

Protect yourself and others from infection

According to the IQWiG, you can protect yourself and others from infection by allowing the lip sores and crusts to heal completely

  • kisses nobody
  • no towels, dishes and cutlery is shared
  • wash your hands when you touch your lip (for example, after applying ointment)
  • Avoids physical contact
  • has no oral sex because the viruses can be transmitted to the mucous membranes of the genital organs and cause genital herpes

The experts point out that newborns up to the age of eight are particularly at risk because of their immature immune system.

If a parent has cold sores, they should not kiss the infant whose pacifier is not in the mouth, wash their hands regularly, and prevent the child from accidentally touching the cold sore.

Important to know: Even outside an outbreak, it is possible to infect others. Because this happens very rarely, precautionary measures can be dispensed with as long as you do not have acute cold sores.

Treat herpes

Since cold sores heals on their own, treatment is not absolutely necessary. Local therapy (external use) with ointments can be useful to relieve the unpleasant symptoms.

According to the TK, ointments with drying and antiseptic (disinfectant) agents are particularly suitable. An ointment with an anti-virus agent can also help.

However, the correct application is important: when the first symptoms appear, treatment should be started within 24 hours to work. It is best to start as early as possible.

Home remedies for herpes, such as aloe vera or clove oil, are also recommended.

In the case of recurrent infections, infections of the brain or eyes, initial infection in children and genital herpes, local therapy is usually not sufficient. Those affected then receive an active ingredient against the virus, often acyclovir, in tablet form. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Video: Herpes simplex virus cold sores - New Investigational Drug for HSV (October 2022).