Five Things You Didn't Know About: Cold sores (eww)

I imagine we've all had them, hid them and hated them. Cold sores: they just suck.

Not only is there the lip-searing pain to deal with, they inevitably crop up the day before a job interview (oooh, nice suit...ohhh, slightly nasty smile), big date with the guy you re-met at your high school reunion (ummm, did you Photoshop that out on your profile pic?) or your big weekly trip to Trader Joe's (seriously, every outing is tainted).

Whether you call it a cold sore, canker sore or fever blister, the inconvenience, embarrassment and discomfort of having one is enough to make anybody mouthy. Here are five things you need to know about these bad boys:

1. Yes, the outbreak on your mouth is related to outbreaks on the hoo-hoo. The Herpes Simplex Virus, also known as HSV, is responsible for your cold sore. There are two types of HSV and both can cause either genital herpes or whatever is going on with your mouth. You can spread it just like any other illness, by kissing, touching the sore or its fluid and then touching someone else, sharing toothbrushes (hey, people do crazy things). Once you have this virus, you have it. For life. If you get a lot of cold sores or you are concerned about genital herpes, you should probably talk to your doc about how to reduce frequency and stay as healthy and pain-free as you can.

2. You can have the virus but not have a cold sore. Crazy. True. It is especially disconcerting to know this happens when the rest of us are wincing at the pain or have to go ahead with our wedding portraits with a giant fever blister making itself at home on our top lip. Symptoms can also include swollen glands, a sore throat and a blister that eventually opens, releases fluid and then develops a crusty over-layer, which strangely reads better than it actually is. (Read about more symptoms here).

. Cold sores last for 2 days to 2 weeks. Treating the cold sore with creams or ointments will reduce that time by a whopping day or two. Also, food allergies and hormonal changes, like getting your period, can trigger a cold sore. You can have one to twelve outbreaks a year, which gives your bod just enough time to heal up before you could potential feel the burn again. Seriously, it is like the injustices do not ever end!

4. Prevention is key, people. Steer clear of kissing, swapping lip balm or sharing cups (and toothbrushes) with people with cold sores. Wash your hands (always a good idea, mouth sore or not). Also, this article suggests avoiding stress as that can trigger cold sores. This makes me laugh since, in my experience, cold sores have always made me stress, thus perpetuating the cycle of insanity and lip frenzy. Maybe the better advice is to work to stay healthy and cold-free, doing all that stuff we all know we should be doing like sleeping and eating well and being kind to our bodies and spirits. Hopefully, doing all that doesn't trigger more stress than it prevents. Good luck.

5. Everybody's got a remedy.
Perhaps because cold sores can be so painful and embarrassing, there are plenty of over-the-counter, prescription medication and natural treatments (that doesn't even include the stuff your grandma swears by).

Home remedies that might help bring some relief include placing a cool, wet towel on the afflicted area for 20 minutes, three times a day (just be sure to use a new towel everyday). Taking ibuprofen and avoiding acidy foods with ouch-factor (eeek, lemons! ack, tomatoes!) is also just good common sense.

Lysine, echinacea and lemon balm are all commonly used natural remedies that are often mentioned online. Your doctor can advise you on making your way through the many over-the-counter treatments or if a prescription would be best for you. I personally have had great luck with my own Rx, treating spots at the first tingle and being sure to pack it up when I travel, just in case. I've heard from my doc that medication will only reduce the time you have a cold sore by a small margin (even if it does address the pain and ugliness more quickly), but every day counts, right? After all, one day with a cold sore equals like four bad hair days, and that, we just cannot afford.

[photo credit: JGI / Blend Images / Getty Images]