Cold sores are one of the banes of my life and for millions across the world. And right now, they're a misery for me.
It could be burgeoning leprosy or the results of a gargantuan glue-huffing problem. But no, that angry-looking 20p-sized area of flaking, suppurating, painful skin next to my lip that's getting bigger by the day is a dreaded cold sore. (It feels GIGANTIC too).
I'm insecure about my looks anyway, so having a disgusting cold sore just makes me want to hide under my duvet and not show my stricken face until it's gone. Obviously that's not an option.
What I want to do when I have a cold sore but can't, so posed by model
I've only just got rid of one on the other side too, so it seems my face is into symmetrical suffering. I'm not so much looking at going swimming in a motorcycle helmet as just cutting my head off. They hurt, they weep, they crack and bleed and make you look hideous. There's just no covering up the ulcerated mess either.
In the grand scheme of health problems, I know having cold sores isn't a big deal. But Gordon Bennett on a bendy bus, can someone please try and find a way to blitz these little face blighters for good?
The first time I got one, I can't have been more than 10 years old. I put it down to horseriding in the bitter cold of winter. It was like a chapped lip, only it manifested as a painful crack in the corner of my mouth. I've had them ever since. So those tales that you always got them from kissing weren't actually correct.
Looks pretty doesn't it, the herpes simplex one virus? IT IS NOT, IT IS EVIL
Apparently, some 67% of the world's population test positive for evidence of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) virus that causes cold sores, though thankfully, that doesn't always end up in you getting blasted face blisters. However, if infected, it stays dormant in your nerve cells for life, ready to break out into a herpes party at any excuse.
According to the NHS website:
Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually clear up without treatment within seven to 10 days.
Cold sores often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Small fluid-filled sores will then appear, most commonly on the edges of your lower lip.
Cold sores are at their most contagious when they burst (rupture), but remain contagious until they are completely healed. You should therefore avoid close contact with others until your cold sore has completely healed and disappeared.
An unwelcome visitor that is MUCH smaller than mine
I would argue with the 'small' bit as sometimes they seem to join up and take up the bottom half of my face. And also, BLEEEE. So that's the science - why do we get them?
Triggers can include stress, hormonal fluctuations, surgery, fevers, illness, or sun exposure.
I've just had a rather horrendously stressful time over Christmas and New Year it's true. But while you can't always avoid stress (and I do my best to combat it with daily exercise), I have also tried every single 'cure' that I've ever heard of. And still those little bleeders come. Here are some of those 'treatments':
1. Over-the-counter creams, like Zovirax or Boots's own. It might take the sting out a bit, but every time you take a drink or bite it's still agony as they crack again. It doesn't seem to speed the healing a great deal either, even if you go through a tubeload with each attack.
2. Ditto those 'patches'. Whatever it says on the packet, it doesn't do much for the pain or disguise your disfigurement. They're just a massive KLAXON! YOU'VE GOT A COLD SORE!. You look like you've stuck a bit of clingfilm or sticky back plastic near your gob. And it falls off after about five minutes anyway if you do something crazy like, I dunno, smile.
3. The lotions. Boy, you might as well just lob a load of iodine on your mush. OUCH. It just seems to dry them out and make you look like an extra flaky Singing Detective.
4. A zapper. Or rather, an electronic cold sore machine. According to the blurb, these bad boys emit an "invisible, narrow waveband of light to enhance the local immune response to the cold sore virus. The light treatment reduces the duration of the attack and speeds up the healing time." I need to see the scientific back up for this, as while it used to do the trick, it doesn't seem to work much for me right now. And they're not cheap.
5. Lysine. I take 1000mg of lysine every day of the year. The tablets are the size of horse pills. The upside is, they're so big, I don't need breakfast.
6. Liquorice lip balm. Got that, got the lip gel. Just makes me crave pomfret cakes and allsorts.
Extract of echinacea is said to help prevent cold sores - I think they're best left in the garden
7. Taking echinacea and vitamins E and C. I take echinacea extract everyday (in my morning orange juice, it's delicious) and so many supplements I rattle. Fat lot of good it does me.
8. Sunscreen on your lips. Yep, my daily face cream has 15 SPF in it and so does my lip balm. Even in our sundrenched British winter.
So there we go - I am at my wit's end when it comes to clobbering cold sores. Readers - or indeed experts! - it's over to you. Any ideas? And in the meantime, I'll be the one in the swimming pool with a motorcycle helmet on.
Me swimming at the weekend (not really it's from that old Zorivax ad)