The Doctor Is In

I’m in college and my boyfriend gets cold sores on his lip. Is that herpes? Will I get it too if I kiss him? I’m terrified of getting those ugly sores on my mouth.

Dr. Raskin: The author Levende Waters wrote, “A kiss seals two souls for a moment in time.”

Although this may be a perfectly romantic quote for the upcoming Valentine’s Day, this kiss may also seal a person’s fate to a lifetime of unsightly cold sore outbreaks.

Cold sores, or fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), most commonly HSV type 1.

It is spread by saliva through kissing as well as other casual contact, such as sharing drinks or utensils. It is extremely common with over 90 percent of all adults getting at least one cold sore in their lifetime.

You may be surprised to discover that there are more than three million new cases per year in the United States alone.

Although many people never have more than one outbreak, about 40 percent of Americans have repeated cold sores.

Even if your boyfriend doesn’t have an actual blister, he can still transmit the virus to you. Often the cold sore sufferer will experience a tingling, itching or burning sensation around the mouth area about 48 hours prior to a sore forming.

This marks the beginning of the most contagious period, which continues until the blister has crusted over and healed. Sores may develop as late as 20 days after exposure to the virus.

Most people are exposed to the cold sore virus as kids, perhaps from your sweet Aunt Martha kissing you at your ninth birthday party.

It is impossible to tell how and when the virus was acquired or who gave it to you because it may lie dormant for years without causing an outbreak.

So, don’t automatically assume your boyfriend is cheating on you if his first cold sore outbreak is two years into your relationship!

There are some common triggers that are often associated with cold sore outbreaks. These include fatigue, stress, cold weather, excessive sunlight and hormonal changes that come with menstruation.

Anything that can lower your immune system can also bring on these nasty-looking lip lesions.

Although there is no cure for the herpes simplex virus that causes these sores, there are both prescription and over-the-counter medications, which when taken early can often help shorten the duration of the sore.

Antivirals such as acyclovir and valcyclovir as well as topical creams such as Abreva are examples of these medications.

Don’t bother with home remedies such as witch hazel, alcohol or tea bags. They do nothing to shorten the course of the cold sore.

If you do end up getting frequent cold sores, talk to your doctor about taking antivirals to reduce the frequency of outbreaks.

With all that said, have a happy Valentine’s Day and enjoy college and your boyfriend. Just kiss wisely.

Palisadian Damon Raskin, M.D., is a board-certified internist who offers preventative medicine, concierge services and addiction medicine to patients in and around the Palisades. Contact: 310-459-4333. To submit your medical questions, email frances@palipost.com.