What are cold sores?
Cold sores are small blisters around the mouth, caused by the herpes simplex virus. They are sometimes referred to as fever blisters. The most common strain of the virus causing cold sores is herpes simplex virus 1. It can be spread by kissing or sharing eating utensils or even sharing towels.
Herpes simplex is not curable, but may lie dormant for long periods of time. Episodes of the cold sores last no longer than two weeks. Hot sun, cold wind, a cold or other illness, or a depressed immune system can cause an outbreak of herpes simplex virus.
What are the symptoms of cold sores?
Some people never experience any symptoms with the first attack; others have severe flu-like symptoms and ulcers in and around the mouth. The following are the most common symptoms of cold sores. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Tingling of the lips, commonly felt before cold sores appear
Small blisters on the lips and mouth that enlarge, burst, then crust over
Itching, dryness, and irritation of the lips and mouth
Soreness of the lips and mouth
The symptoms of cold sores may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
Treatment for cold sores
Cold sores cannot be cured, but, if symptoms are severe, treatment may help alleviate some symptoms. Treatment may include:
Antiviral topical ointments (such as acyclovir and penciclovir)
Antiviral oral medications (such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir)
Over-the-counter topical anaesthetics or anti-inflammatory agents may help with symptoms
Cold sores take approximately one to three weeks to heal. The first time they appear, they can take up to three weeks to heal; whereas when cold sores return, they usually take a week to heal if no medicines are used. According to the American Dental Association, antiviral medications may help, but they are ineffective after three to four days of blister formation and are usually not recommended for otherwise healthy people. Always consult your doctor or dentist if the sore does not heal or becomes worse as time passes.
- Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
- Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C