NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Cold sores are something most of us have to deal with at some point. They can be painful and embarrassing, and pop up where you just can’t hide them.
“It’s an ugly thing on your face,” Upper West Side resident Pam Pardee said.
“It would be convenient if you could cover it up, but it’s right in the middle of your face,” said Philip Ginitis of Queens.
“It just brings your whole body down, said Midtown resident Alexis Briscuso.
There are, however, treatments that work.
“It makes me feel very insecure,” Beracah Sullivan said.
Sullivan’s cold sore is in the end stages of healing. She says the sores are upsetting both physically and emotionally.
“They’re huge blisters, and they’re on the middle of my face,” Sullivan said. “I can tell people really are trying to not look straight at my mouth when I have them.”
For many of his patients, Dr. David Colbert says cold sores are devastating.
“It can make you not want to go to work. It can make you depressed. It can make you feel like it’s ruining your social life,” said Dr. Colbert, a dermatologist.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, type 1. The virus is contracted by touching the saliva of an infected person, usually through sharing food or kissing.
It’s incredibly common, and worst of all, once you get it, there’s no getting rid of it.
By the time they’re adults, up to 80 percent of Americans carry the virus that causes cold sores. Many of those people will never actually get a cold sore, but that doesn’t mean they’re not contagious.
“Some people are shedding virus, but there’s no sore there, so you wouldn’t even know,” Dr. Colbert said.
Cold sores are commonly brought on by stress, fatigue, sickness and sun exposure, and some people can sense them before they strike.
“I’ll get an inkling that they’re coming by a little bit of tingling or itching on my lip,” Sullivan said.
The process of healing can be a long one – taking up to two weeks – but there are some treatments that can help.
Prescription creams reduce pain and itching, and oral antiviral medications, like Valtrex, can shorten the healing time if taken right when the sores develop.
Alternative therapies – like vitamin C, lysine supplements and lemon balm – can ease the pain and improve the appearance of the sores.
One study showed that zinc oxide cream may reduce the duration of the outbreak.
Dr. Colbert offers cortisone injections to patients who want to look better faster.
“Very diluted cortisone into the cold sore, this can bring the inflammation down quite rapidly,” he said.
A handheld heat device, called the Zeno CS, may inactivate the virus and make sores heal in half the time. Already on the market in Canada, the makers hope for FDA approval in the U.S. soon.
For Sullivan, the most effective approach is to take a deep breath and relax.
“I try and be conscious of calming myself down,” Sullivan said.
Some popular treatments, like tea tree oil and camphor-based creams, have not been proven to be of any benefit in treating cold sores.