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What is a cold sore?

Many individuals in the United States have suffered from cold sores at some point in their life. “These outbreaks can be severe and affect activities of daily life,” explains Emily Johnston, dermatology physician assistant at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas. It is important to understanding the appearance and cause of cold sores to help prevent further spread and to understand how to appropriately treat the condition.

What Is A Cold Sore?

Cold sores is a viral infection that appear initially as blisters on the lips or inside the mouth including the tongue. The blisters often form in small clusters on a red base and can be very painful. They will eventually open, break down the skin and form an ulceration which will then crust over. Outbreaks can last up to 14 days until fully healed. Initial cold sore outbreaks may be accompanied by fever and swollen lymph nodes in the neck. Subsequent outbreaks are often heralded by numbness, tingling and pain at the site of the outbreak prior to developing anything on the skin. The number and severity of outbreaks can vary from one person to another.

What Causes Them?

“Cold sores, also known as herpes labialis, are caused the herpes simplex virus,” Johnston explains. There are two main types of Herpes virus that people talk about: type I (HSV-1) and type II (HSV-2). HSV-1 most commonly causes cold sore outbreaks to the lips and mouth. Both viruses are contagious. HSV-1 is contracted by direct contact with an infected persons mouth or saliva. This often occurs during childhood or young adulthood via kissing, sharing utensils or other items.

“Some other conditions, including skin cancer, are also known to have lesions similar to cold sores, so it is best to have them checked to ensure that they are not a health risk,” Johnston suggests.

How Do I Cure Cold Sores?

Though there is no cure for cold sores (herpes labialis) treatments are available to help shorten the duration and decrease the severity of the outbreaks. “Antiviral medications can be taken as a pill or applied as topical cream at the first sign of an outbreak,” says Johnston. If outbreaks occur frequently, daily antiviral therapy can help suppress the number of outbreaks.

Contact Us

Cold sores are a common skin infection in the United States. These viral outbreaks can affect daily life and activities. Thankfully treatment options are available for this infection. Talk to your medical provider or contact us for more information and treatment options.