According to a new online survey among U.S. adults (ages 18 and over) who self-identify as gay, fewer than half of those who suffer from cold sores were aware that extremely cold weather could be a trigger for their cold sore outbreaks.

The survey was commissioned by Abreva, the only over-the-counter cold sore treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to shorten healing time, and conducted by Harris Interactive®.

“Often in the winter months, we see an uptick in cold sores since cold and flu season can trigger a cold sore, but many people do not realize exposure to cold temperatures can re-activate the HSV-1 virus,” said David VanBrunt, director of Abreva marketing. “Exposure to harsh weather or going from extreme temperatures, such as from a warm house to the cold outdoors, are considered traumatic events and may trigger a cold sore outbreak. “

Results from the survey of gay men revealed that only 40 percent of the men who suffer from cold sores (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 or HSV 1) were aware that exposure to extremely cold weather could trigger cold sores.

Also according to the survey data, 30 percent of gay men who experience cold sore outbreaks (outside the mouth) got them once in the past 12 months while the remaining 70 percent experienced them at least two times per year.

A variety of stimuli are identified as cold sore triggers including fatigue, stress, hormones, illnesses such as colds or flu and physical trauma. In addition to cold weather, prolonged or excessive exposure to UV rays, whether natural or artificial, can irritate the area around the mouth and lead to a cold sore outbreak. Treatment should be started at the first symptom of a cold sore for best results.

When asked what triggers their cold sores, 68 percent said stress was a cold sore trigger. Gay cold sore sufferers also reported that colds/flu (42%) and fatigue (25%) were associated with their cold sore outbreaks.

“Over the coming year we will be working to address the issues surrounding the HSV virus and create greater awareness among gay cold sore sufferers about the HSV-1 virus and its health implications,” said Van Brunt.

Cold sores often are painful and typically last between eight and ten days if left untreated.

Cold Sore Signs and Symptoms

The average untreated cold sore lesion lasts eight to 10 days. Following is a description of each stage a cold sore goes through:

  • Tingle Stage: Uncomfortable sensations that signal the onset of a cold sore, before there are visible signs. These sensations include tingling and burning, which may last a few hours to a day.
  • Swelling: This stage, in which the area becomes red and swollen due to the inflammatory reaction to the infection, may last several hours.
  • Blister: Multiple vesicles or blisters appear, often accompanied by a throbbing pain. This stage lasts about a day.
  • Ulcer: At this stage, which many patients describe as the most painful stage of the cold sore, the vesicles come together and rupture, producing a painful ulcer.
  • Scab/Crusting: The ulcer dries, leaving an unsightly scab or crust that may be visible for about six days.
  • Healing: During the healing stage, which may last about 36 hours, the lesion resolves and the scab falls off.

Cold Sore Survival Tips

  • Don’t overdo it in the sun. Limit exposure to UV light from the sun and tanning beds — it is one of the most common cold sore triggers.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures. Intense heat and frigid cold can be triggers for cold sores so try to stay in a comfortable setting.
  • Be prepared. Begin treatment at the first sign of an outbreak.
  • Don’t share. Remember that cold sores are contagious, so be sure to apply makeup with a cotton swab or disposable sponge to avoid spreading the infection.
  • Wash ‘em. Wash hands before and after applying medication or touching a cold sore.
  • Hide the sore, not your smile. To conceal the lesion, dip a small-tipped cotton swab or sponge into a mixture of foundation and oil-free concealer. Dab onto the affected area and gently blend to cover the spot. Then, lightly dust with loose powder to set.
  • Quit picking! Avoid picking at the cold sore — it will only damage the surrounding skin and prolong the healing cycle.
  • Get your flu shot. Besides the fact that having the flu is miserable enough, just getting sick can trigger a cold sore outbreak – so be sure to get your flu shot this season.
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