The Quiet Life of Cold Sores

The burden of getting cold sores has been something that I’ve experienced since high school.  Outbreaks were always something I dreaded, but I dread them even more now that I am a mother.  Not being able to kiss my child for 2 weeks is heartbreaking.

I was always horribly embarrassed to admit that I suffer from cold sores.  I will never forget my first outbreak.  It was New Years of my junior year in high school.  About a week before, I took a volleyball to the mouth during a tournament and split my bottom lip.  It was no big deal, other than the split lip didn’t seem to want to heal very well, staying pretty tender longer than was typical.  I went to a friend’s house for New Years Eve and stayed the night.  When I woke up, I felt terrible!  My gums felt like they were on fire, I felt feverish, and I had ulcers all over the inside of my mouth.  I was so miserable, and my mom was so worried about the appearance of the inside of my mouth, she took me to the ER.  The doctor said I just had some canker sores.  I had had canker sores before, but never this painful or widespread.  We went home, and I went and laid in bed.  We had people over for my dad’s birthday, but I never came out.  My mom tried to bring me a plate of food, but I couldn’t even eat.  The next day, she sent me to my pediatrician with my dad.  By this time, I also had this painful sore on one of my fingers.  The Dr. promptly diagnosed me with Herpes Simplex Virus-1, or cold sores, which is different than a canker sore.  I was horrified and embarrassed.  How could this have happened?  She gave me a prescription for an antiviral and sent me home.  I missed school and volleyball practice for probably almost a week.  I could hardly eat or drink, let alone talk.  I had a few sores on my lips that broke open, so my lips stuck together.  In order to get my lips apart, I would have to break open the sores again.  It was extremely painful.  I lost about 10 lbs that week.  When I returned to volleyball, many of the parents in the stands remarked to my mom how much weight I had lost while I was out sick.  I never told any of my friends or teammates the reason I was sick.  This breakout was considered a primary infection, which is why I was so sick.  It usually only happens during the first outbreak.

Over the years, I have tried to be extremely careful about preventing the spread of my cold sores.  If I had an outbreak, or even thought I felt one coming on, I wouldn’t kiss anyone, share drinks or utensils, and I wouldn’t share my lipgloss.  I think friends at the time may have thought I was being rude, but I was trying to spare them while never telling them the reason I wouldn’t share.  How could I admit that I had oral herpes?

When I started dating my husband, it wasn’t long before I had to tell him about it.  When I would get any hint of a cold sore coming on, I wouldn’t kiss him.  I had to tell him it was for his own protection.  It sucked having to go 2 weeks at a time without kissing the man I loved.  It still sucks.  When my daughter was born, it seemed that I was getting cold sores about once a month.  It was devastating having a newborn that I couldn’t smother in kisses.  It was also terrifying to me as a nurse knowing the vulnerability of a brand new baby.  During that time, I asked my OB/gyn for an antiviral prescription.  Now in my chart, oral herpes is listed.  I am still a little embarrassed about it.

The reason I am admitting all of this is to spread awareness.  An article I read said that antibodies to HSV-1 is found in about 80% of all adolescents, so it is a very widespread virus.  Many people are exposed to this virus, and there is no cure.  It stays in your body and lies dormant.  About 1/3 of people will suffer from relapses.  For most people, cold sores are just an annoyance.  For infants and people with weakened immune systems, it can be dangerous, so for that reason, if you have a cold sore use extreme caution.  Wash your hands frequently, especially if you touch an area where there is a sore, and do not share drinking utensils, cups, or anything else that touches the sores, and do not kiss others.  Also be aware that it can be spread to the genitals with orogenital contact.

Feel free to share your experiences with me, and try not to be embarrassed if you do suffer from cold sores.  There are likely more people that you know that also suffer with them.