When one hears of night fever, what readily crosses the mind is an illness that might have surfaced overnight or something that has affinity with the night. But night fever, medically known as cold sores, is a skin condition characterised by unsightly and socially embarrassing sores.
Cold sores, according to experts, are small blisters that are reddish and a little painful. They are usually on the outer edge of the lip or inside the mouth. Many people had, one time or the other, suffered the illness but found it difficult to fathom what exactly it was all about.
Cold sores can appear one at a time or in little bunches. They are filled with fluid, but crust over and form a scab before they go away.
A general practitioner, who is based in Lagos, Dr. Oludara David, allayed the fears that the illness or symptoms were something not to run around over. According to him, small blisters might last a week or two and usually don’t necessarily need any special treatment.
He explained further that although they are called cold sores, one does not need to have a cold to get one, adding that it is also called fever blisters in some climes, but people do not have to have a fever to have one, either.
“To make it more simple, fever blister is a small sore situated on the face or in the mouth that causes pain, burning or itching before bursting and crusting over. The favourite locations that they are easily found are on the lips, chin or cheeks and in the nostrils. On rare occasions, they could be found on the gums or roof of the mouth, which is known as the palate,” he said.
He explained that fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1, which lay latent or dormant in the body and is reawakened or reactivated by factors such as stress, sunburn or fever from a wide range of infectious diseases including colds. He stated that Sunscreen (SPF 15 or more) on the lips prevents recurrences of herpes from sunburn.
According to him, the good news is that recurrences are less common after age 35.
However, he warned that the virus is highly contagious, especially when fever blisters are present.
“It is spread by kissing. Children become infected by contact with someone who has a fever blister and then they spread the virus by rubbing their cold sore and touching other children. A person with fever blisters should be careful not to touch the blisters and spread the virus to new sites, such as the eyes or genitals.
“There is no cure for fever blisters. But there are medications that can relieve some of the pain and discomfort include ointments that numb the blisters, antibiotics that control secondary bacterial infections, and ointments that soften the crests of the sores. Acyclovir, an antiviral drug, prevents the herpes simplex virus from multiplying and, in pill form, has been reported to reduce the symptoms and frequency of recurrence,” David said.
Historically, he said fever blisters have plagued people for thousands of years. He said in ancient Rome, Italy, an epidemic of fever blisters prompted Emperor Tiberius to ban kissing in public ceremonies. According to him, today, fever blisters still occur in epidemic proportions.
One of the world leading health magazines, “Lancet,” reports that about 100 million episodes of recurrent fever blisters occur yearly in the United States alone. Fever blisters are also called cold sores, labial herpes (herpes labialis, in Latin) and febrile herpes (herpes febrilis, in Latin).
Causes of cold sores
Medical experts have explained that cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes. Herpes is one of the most common viral infections in the world. The medical name for the virus that causes cold sores is herpes simplex.
There are two types of herpes simplex infection: herpes simplex virus one (called HSV-1 for short) and herpes simplex virus two (called HSV-2 for short). Although both can cause cold sores around a person’s mouth, most are caused by HSV-1.
In one of Lancet publications in 2016, HSV-1 is so common that most Americans get infected with it, although many never have any symptoms. People can catch HSV-1 by kissing a person with a cold sore or sharing a drinking glass or utensils, so it’s easy to see why there are so many cold sores around.
“Kids who get infected with HSV-1 may get cold sores occasionally for the rest of their lives. That’s because even after the sores themselves dry up and go away, the virus stays in the body, waiting around for another time to come out and cause more sores. When a cold sore reappears, it is often in the same place as the last one,” as revealed in the magazine.
How to avoid cold sores
HSV-1 isn’t a big deal. But it’s a good idea to try to keep cold sores as far away as possible. If someone you know has a cold sore: Don’t kiss him or her; don’t drink out of the same glass or use the same knife, fork, or spoon and don’t share towels, washcloths, or napkins.
If the person have had cold sores before, it can be hard to tell what might make them come back. For some kids, too much stress, too much time in the sun or getting sick can cause cold sores to reappear. However, eating well, getting enough rest, and learning how to deal with stress are important things for any kid to do, especially a kid who is likely to get cold sores.
Putting on sun block lip balm and sunscreen on the face before going out in the sun may help prevent cold sores from reappearing in kids who tend to get them.
What to do when one develops a cold sore
For most kids, the sores go away on their own without any special treatment from a doctor. But it is recommended by doctors that when one gets a cold sore, he or she should try holding some ice wrapped in cloth or a cool washcloth on the sore. It also might help to eat a popsicle.
Sometimes, if the cold sores are making a kid sick, a doctor may prescribe a special medicine that fights the herpes simplex virus. Some kids may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if their sores are painful.
While the patient is waiting for the cold sore to go away, he or she should wash his or her hands well and often and do not pick at it. The patient will only get in the way of his body’s natural healing process. Picking at a cold sore is also bad news because it is easy to spread the virus to other parts or your body, like your fingers or eyes. Worse yet, one might spread the virus to other people.
Fever blister causes and natural remedies
According to a Nutrition Counsellor, who is based in New York, United States of America, Christine Ruggeri, a fever blister is pretty common, as it easily spreads from person to person through direct contact. She said cold sores or fever blisters could be uncomfortable and unattractive. They begin as red and swollen blisters that eventually develop scabs, adding that blisters cause painful sores that can become worse when you have a weakened immune system.
According to him, “by boosting the immune system through a healthy diet, making lifestyle changes and taking precautions during periods of active breakouts, you can help keep the herpes virus dormant and limit the outbreak of fever blisters.
“There are usually several stages of a fever blister. You first experience a tingling, itching and even burning sensation around the lips. This is the first sign that a fever blister is developing, and you should begin using antiviral herbs, essential oils and creams the moment you notice these symptoms.
“Within 24 to 48 hours, the blister typically forms on the border of the lips and skin. Eventually, it breaks open and begins to ooze, and then it dries out and crusts over. A scab forms and protects the new skin that’s growing underneath. The virus is contagious until it dries out and scabs over.
Fever blister causes and risk factors
HSV-1 is contagious for people who are not already infected by the virus and for those with a weakened immune system, which may be due to chemotherapy treatment or an infection like HIV. Herpes labialis can also spread to the genitals through direct contact during oral sex.
Experts have said that herpes simplex is a primary infection that usually occurs before the age of 20. Antibodies against the virus are found in about 80 per cent of all adolescents. After the primary infection, the virus lays dormant in a person’s immune system throughout her lifetime. However, stimuli, such as fever, menstruation, sunlight, stress and upper respiratory infections can cause the virus to return.
Conventional treatment of fever blisters
It is common for people to take ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin or acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, to reduce the pain of a fever blister. Meanwhile, experts have said that there are side effects to all of the drugs and even a risk of overdose. They warn patients not to take more than 4,000 milligrams of Tylenol a day in order to avoid an acetaminophen overdose. For ibuprofen, 800 milligrams four times a day is the safe upper limit, as recommended.
The most commonly prescribed medications for relieving pain and discomfort from a fever blister are acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These antiviral drugs don’t cure the virus, and they don’t help once the blister appears. You must apply them when you feel a cold sore coming on in order for them to be effective.
The most frequent reported side effects of oral antiviral medications are headache and nausea, which depend on the dose and duration of treatment.
It is important to understand that even with early detection and prescription medications, the herpes virus cannot be totally cured — so transmission is always still possible. Medications for viruses don’t always work long term, and they are not a cure-all.
The good thing is that the first fever blisters one experiences from either HSV virus will most likely be the worst, and then one can expect immunity against the virus to usually improve over time. In fact, by the age of 35, the number of relapses usually decreases. People can speed up tolerance to the virus by making lifestyle changes, boosting your immune system and using antiviral herbs and essential oils.
Some natural remedies for fever blisters
While technically the virus that causes herpes is not curable, there are many natural remedies that can put herpes into remission. In fact, many people with the virus don’t experience any symptoms at all, especially long term, once they learn to manage triggers and outbreaks.
Here are some simple ways to treat a fever blister once it appears and prevent future outbreaks:
The zinc factor
Zinc is needed in many chemical reactions that help rebuild skin and protect the body from viruses and infections. Research shows that topical zinc formulas have been found to be effective for the treatment of fever sores and for prolonging the remission of herpes.
A 2011 study published in “Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine” found that participants who began treatment with a zinc oxide/glycine cream within 24 hours of onset of signs and symptoms of oral herpes cut the duration of fever sore lesions significantly when compared to the placebo cream. The mean duration of symptoms was five days.
Zinc oxide/glycine cream also reduced the overall severity of symptoms, particularly blistering, soreness, itching and tingling.
A zinc deficiency can increase your risk of developing a fever blister, so boost your zinc intake with zinc-rich foods like grass-fed beef, chickpeas, cashews, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, chicken, turkey, eggs, salmon and mushrooms.
Research published in Alternative Medicine Review suggests that Vitamin E soothes the skin and may help to relieve pain and discomfort from fever blisters. It’s an antioxidant that repairs damaged skin and reduces inflammation.
Vitamin E can be taken as oral capsules or one can boost his levels with Vitamin E-rich foods, such as almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, sunflower seeds and olive oil.
It is an amino acid that helps treat the herpes virus when taken by mouth or applied directly to the skin. It works by preventing the virus from growing. Several studies found that L-lysine appears to be an effective agent for reducing outbreaks, severity and healing time for recurrent herpes simplex virus infection.
Take 1,000 milligrams three times daily and eat foods that contain L-lysine, such as legumes, fish, turkey, chicken and vegetables.
Melissa Essential Oil
Also known as lemon balm, it is used in traditional medicine to treat herpes simplex and promote skin health. It’s the number one virus-fighting essential oil for fever blisters. This gentle oil is often the herb of choice for treating fever blisters because it’s effective at fighting viruses in the herpes virus family. It can limit the spread of viral infections, which can be especially helpful for people who have developed a resistance to commonly used antiviral substances.
Researchers suggest that Melissa oil is a suitable topical treatment for getting rid of herpes because it has antiviral effects and penetrates the skin.
Aloe Vera Gel
People have been advised to use aloe vera gel on a fever blister to ease the discomfort and speed the healing process. Research shows that aloe vera gel has medicinal skin care properties. It contains antioxidant vitamins, enzymes, minerals, fatty acids and hormones that help with healing and preventing further infection.
To reduce the redness and swelling of a fever blister, place a cool, wet towel on the blister three times a day for about 20 minutes. Applying ice directly to the blister also helps to reduce inflammation and slow down blood flow to the sore, which helps to relieve pain and swelling.
Similarly, Dr. David said in order to prevent an outbreak, people should avoid direct sun exposure and use sunscreen, while warning that direct sunlight or sunburns might trigger the return of herpes simplex and cause a fever blister.
“It has been discovered overtime that using sunscreen or avoiding heavy sun exposure may reduce the number of fever blister recurrences that you experience. There is a finding where the use of sunscreen was studied in a crossover trial in which 38 patients were exposed to experimental ultraviolet light. None of the sunscreen-wearing participants developed fever blisters due to herpes labialis, compared with 71 percent of those using a placebo,” he said.
On avoiding patients, he said, “avoid direct contact with fever blisters because the virus can spread from person to person; avoid direct contact with people who have fever blisters. Kissing or sharing cups, glasses, razors, towels, toothbrushes and other objects that a person with a fever blister used can spread the herpes virus.
“To help prevent the spread of fever blisters in children, don’t let children share toys that others have put in their mouths and be sure to clean their toys occasionally with a natural disinfectant, like lemon essential oil. Children should avoid close contact if one has a fever blister until it begins to scab over.
“To boost your immune system, probiotic foods like yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and natto work to boost the immune system and promote detoxification.
“Echinacea is a powerful immune system stimulator that can provide significant therapeutic value, even when trying to fight a virus like herpes simplex. This is especially true for people with a weakened immune system.
“Raw garlic has antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial properties that can help to boost your immune system and fight fever blister outbreaks. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily dose of 2–3 grams (about one clove) of fresh garlic for adults. Apply it directly to a fever blister to reduce swelling and speed healing. If you feel a fever blister forming, start using garlic right away to prevent it from developing completely.”
Fever blister precautions
If your fever blister does not go away within 10 days or you think that you have an infection, consult your doctor. It is important to take precautions when you have an active fever blister to prevent the spread of the virus. Herpes simplex virus can spread easily when the sore is present.