I’ve had cold sores for over half of my life, unfortunately. While I don’t have any medical training to give proper advice on cold sore causes and treatment, 14 years of blister fun means I DO have some tips and tricks I use to make life a little easier when I get one.
1) DON’T TOUCH IT!!!!
This is the hardest one for me. I’ll admit it, I’m a picker. I just can’t resist the urge. It’s a bad habit at the best of times, but if you pick at a cold sore, you can spread the virus. Which (joy of joys!) means more cold sores. It may feel safer to pick the scabs at the end, but trust me, that can spread the cold sores too. And who wants a blister lip for two weeks instead of one?!
2) Wash your hands religiously
I always, always make sure I wash my hands after applying cream or otherwise touching a cold sore. The HSV-1 virus which causes cold sores can also affect your eyes, so it’s definitely good to be careful.
3) Avoid spreading it
I think the reason cold sores feel so stigmatised is because they’re ugly and super contagious. No one wants to have them and I wouldn’t want anyone to either. To make sure you don’t spread the virus, don’t share cups or utensils and avoid kissing and oral sex. Basically make sure your mouth doesn’t – directly or indirectly – go near anyone else’s. Easy.
4) Have you tried patches?
I used to go for it with the cream. Creams don’t really work, but it felt good to be doing something. Then one day I discovered patches, which changed my life. A bit dramatic maybe, but they are really great. I was very upset they didn’t make my cold sore invisible as promised, but they DO help it heal faster and keep it safe from my picking fingers.
5) Relax & don’t stress
I know, easier said than done. I get more cold sores when I’m stressed. Stressed about work? Worried about an exam? Nervous to start something new? Here’s a cold sore to make everything better! Ha ha. But, seriously, practising self-care is an important part of overall life and if you stress less, your cold sores might just calm down too.
6) Go see a doctor
If you get cold sores a LOT, it’s probably a good idea to see a doctor. You’re usually treated to a cold sore if your immune system is compromised. And if you get a lot of outbreaks, it might be a sign something else is going on. I haven’t actually acted on this advice yet because of the huge embarrassment I felt about cold sores. But now I’ve written it on the internet, I guess I have to.
7) Don’t be ashamed
WAY easier said than done, but it’s my most important tip. For years and years, I was ashamed of having cold sores. I tried my best to hide them with make-up (it didn’t work), my hand (I looked stupid) and by drawing as little attention to myself as possible. I was worried about being judged for being dirty or for kissing lots of boys.
But, if you look at the facts, you shouldn’t be ashamed. Lots of people have the virus even if they don’t have outbreaks. Nothing dirty or promiscuous to see here!
8) Address your cold sores
The easiest way to not feel ashamed of cold sores? In my experience, it’s to own them. At one point, I realised how great it was when I told my friends what was up with my face instead of trying to hide it. A quick ‘Hey Steve, what do you think of my cold sore?‘ lets me control the conversation, preventing any awkward questions or quizzical stares at my lip. Which in turn, makes me feel a whole load better.
9) Don’t ask or stare
This one is for all you lucky blister-free people. I hate you! Just joking, but the absolute worst thing to hear when you have a cold sore and don’t want to talk about it? ‘What’s that on your lip?’ Or jokes about kissing lots of people. As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough worrying about your judgement, I don’t need to hear it too.
10) Remember your cold sores don’t define you
I’m 25 now and at peace with having cold sores, but back at school they really affected me. I would shrink inside myself and sometimes had this weird idea I wasn’t a ‘real person’ when I had one. I don’t have any psych training so I have no idea what this means, but I do know it didn’t make me feel great. Anyway, I guess my point here is I was so wrapped up in worrying about my ugly cold sore, I forgot to live life for a bit. If you’re young and you have them, remember you are a valuable person, regardless of what people think of that scabby lip.
If you want to learn more about cold sores, here are some resources I used when researching this post:
This article was originally published on The Awareness Project.