Cold Sores Hurt More Than Just the Lips
April 2, 2013

Cold Sores Hurt More Than Just the Lips

Tons of people get them. They start with a pulse or burn just on the lip or above it, then a blister pops up, or several small blisters sometimes. And finally comes the pain and possibly, well likely, the headache. Oh man, oh man. That’s the beginnings of a fever blister, otherwise known as a cold sore.

I don’t really know why they are called cold sores or fever blisters, but here’s what they are: cold sores are a result of a herpes viral infection, as one redOrbit fact sheet shows. About 60 percent of the population suffers from cold sores and those who do so experience two or three episodes each year on average, but this varies from person to person. The virus that causes cold sores is herpes simplex 1, which is related to herpes simplex 2, the well-known sexual disease. Though 60 percent of the population actually experience cold sores, about 80 percent of North Americans have herpes 1, though it could be dormant.

Ever since I can remember, I have been plagued with the little pockets full of pain. As a child, I would cry and cry because they hurt. Then as a teenager and young adult, I was incredibly embarrassed because they are ugly. Plus, others assume (because they did not understand) you have cold sores because you were, um, promiscuous, let us say. I would also get them more frequently because I was stressed. Now as an adult, I just find them annoying. I do not have cold sores as often (probably because I have learned how to better handle my stress), but they still drain every ounce of energy from me when I have one. And they still hurt.

As if the pain and embarrassment were not enough, cold sores may do more damage than we realize. It turns out that pain and suffering from something as small as a cold sore really takes its toll. redOrbit explained that researchers from Columbia University and University of Miami recently found that high levels of bacterial and viral infections (like those that cause cold sores) are associated with cognitive difficulties. Their findings were reported in the journal Neurology.

Here’s what the researchers did:

“For the study, researchers administered cognitive tests to over 1,600 people with an average age of 69 from northern Manhattan in New York. Participants’ memory and thinking abilities were annually tested over the course of eight years.

The study participants also gave blood samples that were tested for five common bacterial and viral infections: herpes simplex type 1 (oral), herpes simplex type 2 (genital), cytomegalovirus, chlamydia pneumoniae (lung infection) and Helicobacter pylori (stomach bacteria).”

What they found was that individuals regularly exposed to bacterial and viral infections over the years more likely had trouble with cognitive tests than those with low infection levels. In fact, it was a 25 percent increase for scoring lower on a cognitive test called the Mini-Mental State Examination. The study did not find a correlation with cognitive decline, though.

Though the link between infections and cognitive problems is not absolute, this study, as well as another connecting inflammation in the brain and chronic infections, shows that there likely is still a connection that needs to be further studied. The researchers certainly feel that way. Moreover, the researchers said that these findings could be used to develop a vaccine to essentially disarm the virus. Perhaps that means that further research might find a cure, or at least a means of controlling the virus.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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