I had some of the most disgusting, puss-filled, massive cold sore outbreaks on my lip as a child, and they usually planted themselves on my face after dealing with anxiety and stress (yeah, I was a worry wart as a kid). My doctor, who never prescribed me anything unless it was 1000% necessary, handed my mom a stack of pill samples for when I felt one coming on at the age of 11. That’s how often I’d get cold sores.
I managed to go through the entirety of my teenage years with nary an outbreak, then hit 20 and promptly had one show up on my face during an overseas flight home after my aunt passed away (stress triggers everywhere!).
Another seven marvelous cold sore-less years go by, and another appears. Then two months later, its distant cousin, outbreak #2. Exactly a year later, (the one I battled with a few short weeks ago) shows up while I’m pregnant and had a minor ear infection.
When it rains, it pours.
How to deal with this monstrous social life killer that decides to show up at the worst possible time? Here are some practical tips from years of experience:
- Reach for the Abreva the second you feel the tingle. Orajel also works well as a numbing agent if the cold sore hurts or is uncomfortable (I get the fat lip on day two). I always apply Abreva or Orajel (you should be able to pick them up at most drugstores!) to a q-tip so that I don’t contaminate my ointments or have to wash my hands 300 times. I personally don’t find using ice cubes when I feel the tingle, applying salt to the outbreak, or anything else home-remedy based terribly useful. Keep it simple when it comes to treatment is my philosophy.
- Pop some lysine. If you get outbreaks often, consider taking lysine regularly (I didn’t bother with this one, but I’ve heard lysine is quite helpful)
- Moisturize your lips around the cold sore, reapply Abreva and/or Orajel often. Buuuut maybe pick a lip balm you’re not going to miss since you’re going to have to chuck it once your cold sore is better.
- Don’t pick at your cold sore, even when it’s scabbing. It’ll scab and shed on its own in a couple of days. Your mouth heals faster than other parts of your body!
- Toss anything that you can’t sanitize that your lips have come into contact with including lip balm (see above), lipstick, and your toothbrush (yuuuuup).
- DO NOT under any circumstances try to cover the cold sore with make-up, apply lipstick over it, or put toothpaste on it. It will burn your soul, hurt like hell, and you’ll have to toss your lipstick after the outbreak to prevent subsequent cold sores.
- Be conscious of where your mouth goes – cold sores are crazy contagious. Pick a distinct drinking glass if you live with others, don’t share utensils, toothbrushes, or kiss anyone. Yeah, this sucks if you’re social like me and don’t always want to be on top of sharing utensils or glasses, and not kissing your spouse for a few days isn’t really great. Being conscious of where your mouth goes also includes performing oral sex – it’s a form of the herpes virus, so unless you want to give your partner some potentially nasty genital herpes later (and have them pass it on back to you), stay away from others’ genitals and mouths until the cold sore is 110% gone (it’s about a week to ten days).
- Your friends will understand. Things happen. Cold sores are one of them. It’ll clear up in a few days! But I get it, the world feels like it’s turned on you when a cold sore appears. That bastard. Sprouting when it’s not wanted, making an appearance at the worst possible time. Consider it a good time to hermit if you’re under a lot of stress or really self-conscious about it. Yeah, you can probably call in sick to work (I would).