Cold Sore FAQ

What do I need to know about diving with a cold sore?
Here are a few issues you should consider:

Risk of further injury: Sun exposure or mechanical trauma from the mask and/or regulator may worsen the wound, creating a larger scab and lengthening the healing process.

Infection: If the sore is bleeding, oozing or otherwise open, the risk of infection by pathogens in the water is significant. Cold sores can become complicated by bacterial infections, so it is important to wash them thoroughly with soap and water and keep them as clean and as dry (in general) as possible. 

Impaired mask fit: If a mask skirt will be placed over the sore in a way that rubs or irritates it, then diving should be postponed. The same is true of the regulator; if holding it would cause irritation, then diving would not be recommended.

Transmission: Dive buddies should review procedures for buddy breathing in an out-of-air situation in light of the fact that cold sores are contagious. If gear is rented, ensure proper decontamination procedures are followed. Although it's unlikely, there is always a chance that resuscitation may be needed. Thus, precautions should be taken to prevent disease transmission. This is normally not an issue because barrier devices are readily available in most first aid kits.

Treatments such as penciclovir (Denavir) and docosanol (Abreva) can soften the skin and promote healing. Topical numbing agents such as phenol and menthol may be used for comfort. See your doctor and begin using an over-the-counter product at the first sign of a cold sore; beginning antiviral therapy within the first 48 hours can speed recovery.
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