Cold sores, also called fever blisters or oral herpes, are small sores that form most commonly on or near the lips.
Cold sores usually follow a predictable pattern of four stages that lasts about 10-14 days. The first symptom is a painful, itchy tingling. A day or so later, small red blisters appear. Then, in a few days, the blisters form into oozing sores with yellowish crusts. Finally, in a week to 10 days, the sores scab over and heal.
Outbreaks can be accompanied by low fever, headaches, body aches and fatigue.
Cold sores are painful and annoying, but be patient. They do go away on their own, and you will soon be pain-free again.
Causes of Cold Sores
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Symptoms appear from 1-3 weeks after initial exposure. Once you are infected with the virus, it lives in your nervous system forever.
Certain triggers seem to set off outbreaks. Some of these triggers include too much exposure to ultraviolet light (often resulting in sunburn), physical and emotional stress, fatigue, hormone fluctuations, the menstrual cycle, and illnesses like fever, cold or flu.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no known cure for cold sores, but you can ease the pain by applying over-the-counter remedies that contain numbing agents, like benzocaine or phenol, washing the infected area gently with water and an antiseptic soap, applying either a warm compress or ice, and avoiding spicy or acidic foods during an outbreak.
If this is the first time you have had a cold sore, or if fever, swollen glands, or bleeding gums accompany your cold sore, let us know right away, so we can determine the correct diagnosis. In some cases, we may prescribe an anti-viral medication.
Preventing the Spread of Cold Sores
The cold sore virus is extremely contagious. It spreads by direct contact with an infected person or through contact with personal items such as infected towels, toothbrushes or razors. You can help to prevent cold sores from spreading by:
- Not touching the area.
- Washing thoroughly with water and an antiseptic soap if you have touched the sore.
- Not touching anyone if you have just touched your sore.
- Not kissing anyone while symptoms persist.
- Being extremely careful to prevent the spread of the infection to the eye, as blindness can result.