Simple steps can relieve fever blisters TO YOUR HEALTH

ON CALL

December 15, 1992|By Dr. Simeon Margolis | Dr. Simeon Margolis,Contributing Writer

Q: What causes fever blisters? Can anything be done to prevent or treat them?

A: Fever blisters or cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus. Almost everybody is infected by the virus at some time during their lives, but the infection remains latent in nerves until a flare-up leads to the appearance of one or more painful blisters around the lips. There is no cure for the infection, although taking some large doses of the anti-viral drug acyclovir by mouth can shorten the time to disappearance of crusts and reduce the duration of pain.

But even this works only if the drug is taken before blisters form, when the lips first become inflamed.

A number of measures may be helpful in preventing a flare-up in those who often get fever blisters, or in relieving the symptoms that usually last for about a week:

* Limit exposure to sunlight and apply sunscreen to the lips when you are out in the sun.

* Apply a paste of salt and water when the blister is first forming to draw out some of the fluid and speed healing.

* Drink plenty of liquids and use acetaminophen or aspirin to keep your fever down if you get a cold.

* When a blister breaks and becomes an open sore, apply a moisturizing ointment, such as Blistex, Chapstick or Vaseline to reduce the amount of scab formation.

* Avoid squeezing the blisters and keep them clean to prevent a complicating bacterial infection.

Dr. Margolis is professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and associate dean for faculty affairs at the school.

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