Effective cold sore management relies on understanding the difference between common myths and the truth about the virus. People are better able to make sensible choices when they know everything about the cause, behavior and treatment methods relating to cold sores. Here is the truth about 11 common myths that anyone managing chronic outbreaks should know.
Myth #1 – Cold sores are a sign of an STD.
This is probably one of the most destructive cold sore myths because it causes unwarranted embarrassment and shame. Cold sores are caused by a herpes virus (HSV-1) but it is not the same as genital herpes (HSV-2). The sores may look similar and spread in the same manner but that is the extent of the similarities.
Myth #2 – Cold sores are never dangerous.
Most outbreaks arrive and heal without any complications but this does not mean they are never dangerous. Infants and toddlers and anyone with a weak immune system are at risk to complications that could include infections, blindness and even death. The severest complications are rare but do exist. This is why people in the middle of an active outbreak need to be cautious about hygiene and personal contact with others.
Myth #3 – Cold sores only appear when people are sick.
Despite being called “cold” sores or “fever” blisters, they do not need someone to be ill to develop. Some people will experience flu-like symptoms prior to an outbreak and others may be more prone to cold sores appearing when they are ill because their immune system is weak. However, a lesion can also appear without any other symptom.
Myth #4 – New cold sores only appear when someone is reinfected.
There is no such thing as a “reinfection” of HSV-1. It is not like a cold or flu virus that is contagious and runs its course. Once it is in a body it remains forever.
Myth #5 – Doctors can cure cold sores.
Prescription medications reduce discomfort and shorten the lifespan of the cold sore. They will not prevent future outbreaks and they do not cure a current blister.
Myth #6 – It is only a cold sore if it is on the lip.
Cold sores can develop anywhere on the face or body. They can even appear on the genitals. This does not mean they are then considered an STD. The fluid in a cold sore is contagious. A new lesion may form if it is touched and the fluid accidently spread to other parts of the skin.
Myth #7 – People will not get cold sores if they practice good hygiene.
Hygiene practices have very little to do with the development of cold sore lesions. Hand washing can help to prevent the spread of the virus but cold sores can develop once the virus is in the body regardless of how careful people are about their cleanliness.
Myth #8 – People that never get a cold sore are not infected with the virus.
Only about 30 percent of the population infected with HSV-1 ever develop a cold sore. The majority of these people will only experience outbreaks sporadically.
Myth #9 – Cold sores and canker sores are the same.
Canker sores and cold sores look similar, are both painful and occur near the mouth but they are not the same. A canker sore is related to either a lip or gum injury or a reaction to something that was consumed. It is not contagious and will typically go away within a day or two without any additional care.
Myth #10 – Cold sores are only spread by kissing.
People can develop cold sores without ever getting a kiss. They can be passed to someone through a handshake, by sharing cosmetics or utensils and through many other non-intimate types of contact.
Myth #11 – If a blister opens it will immediately cause new sores.
The fluid in a cold sore blister does contain the virus and can cause the spread of the lesions. However, the blisters will often open and drain on their own as the sore ages. Washing the area regularly and keeping hands away from it as it drains will greatly reduce the risk of it spreading. Opening the blister to drain the liquid in the hope that it will disappear faster is risky because it can lead to scarring and an infection.