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If you suffer from cold sores, you know how miserable it can be. Whenever one of these sores develops, all I want to do is lock myself in the house until it has gone. Making myself go outside to get on with my normal life and face people while feeling hideous and ill is a nightmare.
WHAT IS A COLD SORE? Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Once you have been infected with the virus, it lies dormant in nerve cells supplying your lips and the surrounding skin. When it is triggered, it travels back to the skin on and around your lips and a cold sore develops.
The first sign that a cold sore is about to break out is usually a tingling, itchy sensation in one place, which may start looking red and inflamed. Tiny fluid filled blisters develop, and these grow larger and burst. Gradually the site of the cold sore becomes covered with a scab. Gradually the sore will then start to heal, and the scab will come away. Usually by the end of a fortnight after the cold sore first began to develop, it will have disappeared again.
Cold sores are very contagious and can be passed to other people and to other parts of your body. Kissing and oral sex should be avoided while you have an active sore. It is important to avoid spreading the infection to your eyes, and never pick at the scabs, because you risk exposing the sore to other infections, and possibly passing the virus on to your fingers. Avoid sharing anything you use for eating and drinking. Be especially careful around children, to avoid passing the infection on to them.
SELF-HELP Iíve gradually been able to work out a few things to do which help me cut down the number of attacks. I know that strong sunlight and the cold winter wind on my lips are dangerous, and I always try to apply lip salve before going outside. I never let my lips get dry at night.
Iíve had to give up wearing lipstick because I felt I had to buy a fresh stick after every attack, and it got too expensive. I darenít go anywhere near face masks or exfoliating scrubs for the face, because I am terrified of irritating my skin.
Iíve discovered one thing Ė while pregnant or breastfeeding, I suffer fewer attacks and they are much less severe. I have considered planning for another baby so that I can have another couple of years off, but that seemed a bit extreme!
ZOVIRAX Zovirax is a white cream containing 5% aciclovir. It should be applied to the sore five times a day at approximately 4 hourly intervals for five days. If the sore has not cleared up after five days, treatment can be continued for another five days. It is supplied as either a 2g tube or in a 2g pump.
The manufacturers claim that if Zovirax is applied to your skin at the very earliest stage of the attack Ė when you feel the tingling sensation Ė it may prevent the blisters from forming. If the blister does appear, treatment with Zovirax should speed up healing. However it does not get rid of the infection, and so cold sores may reoccur later.
THE EARLY DAYS I first became aware of Zovirax in the late 1980ís when my mother, another sufferer, told me about a new wonder cream that had just been invented. At the time it was only available on prescription, and I found that gps and pharmacists seemed quite wary of dealing with it. One pharmacist came rushing out of the back room clutching my prescription because the gp had asked for 40g Ė since 2g should be enough for one attack, itís a pity that I didnít insist on having the full amount prescribed, because it would have saved me a lot of money over the next few years!
I found it was very inconvenient having to buy it on prescription. If I woke up in the morning and felt the familiar tingling sensation, I had to go into work then try to ring up the gp to get an urgent appointment Ė by the time I managed to get the cream, the blisters had well and truly arrived.
OVER-THE-COUNTER A few years later, Zovirax was allowed to be sold over the counter at pharmacies, and there was an advertising campaign featuring a woman going through her life wearing a black motorcycle helmet over her head to hide her cold sore. At the same time, rival products with the same active ingredient also appeared. It was noticeable that the price was initially low, but gradually crept upwards over the following months.
The pump dispenser is a fairly recent introduction, and it also now boasts an Ďeasy rub-in formulaí
DOES IT WORK? Unfortunately, for me the reality has never been as good as the advertisements. Even applying the cream at the very earliest stage has never stopped a blister from forming. I do believe that it helps to limit the severity and length of an attack, so I have continued to use it, but it is far from being a magic wand.
When I first started using the cream there were drawbacks with it. The first was that the cream seemed to be almost impossible to rub in. The more I rubbed, the more it just sat on my skin in a white layer. I had to be very sparing with the cream and rub as little as possible.
I found that it caused my skin to become red and flaky around the sore and the blisters would weep after the cream was applied. The cream seemed to sting slightly when applied, but I didnít find that to be a problem.
I had a break from using Zovirax for a couple of years because, as I said before, for me the best prevention for cold sore attacks is to be pregnant. But a few weeks ago I had another bad attack and I needed to use the cream again.
I had never tried the pump so I decided to see what it was like. The pump is small and neat, and easy to use. It seems a very hygienic way to dispense the cream. The cream dispensed seemed more runny and liquid than I remembered, probably because that works better with the pump.
I found that the cream was much easier to rub in than before. Looking at the ingredients list, it contains paraffin and I did feel that the cream was more moisturising than when I had first tried using it. Also, I didnít have trouble with the blisters weeping after applying Zovirax and I didnít notice any stinging.
I was disappointed to find that after a few days the skin around the area where Zovirax had been applied had become red, with little white flecks of dry skin. I persevered, but I found it was a major downside to using the cream.
Although I liked the pump dispenser, I discovered a major drawback. Because I was suffering with three separate sores, I was pressing the pump twice every time I applied the cream. After four days, I went to use the cream and found that there was absolutely none left, so I couldnít continue treatment until I had managed to go to the pharmacy and buy more. It states on the packet that there is enough to treat one attack, and obviously I had been overusing the product, but since the pump is opaque there was nothing to warn me that the supply was running low.
WOULD I USE IT AGAIN? Well, I havenít discovered anything more effective, so I probably would use it again. But I find that the cream is very strong and irritates my skin and certainly does not prevent cold sores from forming. I just wish that someone would hurry up and invent something better!
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY Zovirax is available from pharmacies, price around £5.95 for 2g
"a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend" HRH The Prince of Wales (describing a proposed extension to the National Gallery in London at a speech to the RIBA in 1984)
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