General Health & Well-being

What Are Cold Sores?




What Are Cold Sores?



Cold sores are blisters that commonly form around the mouth or on the lips. Cold sores can also be referred to as fever blisters.



The most common cause of cold sores is a virus called herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV 1). This virus should not be confused with herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV 2), which is a sexually transmitted infection.

Most people acquire the virus during childhood when they interact with a person who has a cold sore. For example, the virus can be transmitted by being kissed by a family member who has a cold sore.

The virus can remain inactive in a person’s body and then result in cold sores due to certain triggers, such as stress, menstrual periods or fatigue.

It is important to note that cold sores can also result from HSV 2. In this case, cold sores commonly appear both on the lips and on the genitals.



Cold sores go through several stages:

  1. The affected area starts to become painful and may itch or burn.
  2. A bump appears on the area, and then it turns into a fluid-filled blister.
  3. The blister may break and leak out a clear fluid.
  4. The blister than dries up and crusts over.
  5. The crusted part falls off and the virus becomes inactive again.

This process usually occurs over a period of about 7 – 14 days. Some people with HPV-1 might not ever get cold sores.



A dermatologist will check if you have a cold sore by examining you and asking you questions to determine how you may have gotten the virus. No tests are usually needed.



Cold sores usually go away on their own, but you can still try to speed up its healing process or relieve the symptoms.

There is no cure for HSV 1; once you get it, it stays in your body. The best thing you can do is to detect cold sores before they develop and start treating them.

Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral cream to use whenever you feel a cold sore is about to develop. You can also ask your doctor about creams that soothe the itching or burning. If necessary, your doctor might recommend certain pain-killers if the cold sore is excessively painful.

You can soothe the symptoms at home by applying an icepack wrapped in a towel to the area. The cool sensation may help relieve symptoms until the cold sore subsides.



Cold sores are highly contagious, so avoid kissing or performing oral sex on an infected person. Furthermore, avoid sharing things like lipstick, eating utensils or cups with anyone who has a cold sore.

Make sure an infected person washes their hands regularly to avoid transmitting the infection.

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