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Cold Sores – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and More

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Description of Cold Sores – A cold sore, also known as a cold sore, is caused by a virus. Cold sores usually appear around the mouth and on the lips. They are highly contagious but not dangerous.

About 60% of the population has had cold sores at some point. On average, individuals who get cold sores have 2 or 3 episodes a year, but the number can vary significantly from person to person.

Causes of Cold Sores

The virus most often responsible for cold sores is herpes simplex virus type 1, a cousin of herpes simplex virus type 2. However, in a minority of cases, the herpes simplex virus type 2 can also cause cold sores. Almost 80% of the population in North America carries the dormant (inactive) herpes simplex virus type 1, which lives in the body all the time.

The virus usually resides in a dormant state inside the body’s nerve cells. So it is because the immune system can generally keep the virus in a condition of inactivity. However, when an infected person exposes to a “trigger” or their immune system is weakened, the virus multiplies rapidly. It then spreads along with nerve cells to the skin, usually on the lips. This phenomenon results in a characteristic tingling sensation and the subsequent appearance of clusters of blisters.

Specific triggers include:

  • cold weather;
  • tiredness;
  • fever, for example, that due to stomach flu or other infection;
  • the period;
  • mental or physical stress;
  • physical irritation of the lips (for example, following a visit to the dentist);
  • the sun or a sunburn.

You can get the virus if you directly contact the cold sore or the fluid in it, which carries many virus particles. For example, you need to shake the hand of a person who has touched their blisters. Or use a toothbrush, mug, kitchen utensil, washcloth, towel, lipstick, or other personal item contaminated with cold sore fluid. Once the blisters are no longer painful or crusty, the person is no longer contagious.

Symptoms and Complications of Cold Sores

People with cold sores may have an unusual sensation around the lips in the 24 hours before the blisters appear, including tingling, burning, pain, or numbness. It is a prodrome, or precursor sign, of the appearance of cold sores in this place. First, redness appears on the skin, then blisters form. During a few days, these let escape a clear liquid which will then dry to form a yellow crust in approximately 3 to 5 days. A little pain usually accompanies the phenomenon for the first few days after the onset of cold sores, but the pain often subsides as the scab forms.

This condition typically causes an amalgamation of lesions, or blisters, at a point around the edges of the lips. Areas other than the lips may also be affected, such as the inside of the mouth, around the nostrils, or even the eyes. The virus can spread to other parts of your body if you touch the blisters and then touch yourself elsewhere. For example, cold sores in the mouth can cause problems and harm you when you talk or eat. If the virus contaminates the eye, it can damage the eye’s surface and lead to loss of sight. It can infect the brain in sporadic cases and cause viral meningitis or encephalitis. Herpes simplex type 1, the virus that causes cold sores, can also be spread to the genitals through oral sex.

The virus herpes simplex type 1 never disappears entirely, so cold sores can reappear later if a new trigger. Most cold sores don’t leave scars. However, if an open gallbladder becomes infected with bacteria or the lesions recur in the same place, a spot can result. In addition, people with weakened immune systems tend to get more cold sores and heal less quickly.

Diagnostic of Cold Sores

Cold sores have apparent symptoms, so there is no need for a battery of tests. Either way, it is rarely necessary to see a doctor. However, it’s best to see a doctor if you notice any redness or pain in your eye, a fever over 38 ° C (100 ° F), or a thick yellowish-white fluid leaking from the blisters. It could be a bacterial infection. The doctor can check the fluid that comes out of the blisters for bacteria.

You should also see a doctor if the lesions last more than 14 days, if they occur more than six times a year, or if the cold sore develops simultaneously as an illness that weakens the immune system.

Treatment and Prevention of Cold Sores


There is no known way to cure go away on their own, but some medications can help prevent the progression of and treat hard sore pain.

Some of the drugs used to treat cold sores include:

  • acyclovir *, an antiviral medicine, can be applied as an ointment 4 or 5 times a day;
  • a combination of acyclovir and hydrocortisone can be prescribed as a cream. This medicine can stop the progression of the disease (ulcerations) if used at the prodrome stage. It can reduce the healing time of ulcerative lesions by 1.4 days and the duration of pain by a day
  • acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir can be taken by mouth to prevent the onset of a cold sore. These antiviral drugs may benefit if taken within an hour of symptom onset or avoid  with anticipated exposure to triggers (e.g., sun). In these particular cases, the drugs may decrease the time required for healing by 1 or 2 days;
  • cold sore remedies that are available over the counter. These products are usually liquid, ointment, gel, or balm. In addition, they may contain moisturizers and protectors for the lips and anesthetic agents intended to decrease the pain due to cold sores and prevent chapping and excessive drying of the lips. These products can help relieve symptoms but do not stop the progression of the lesion or the replication of the virus.
  • docosanol, an inhibitor of viral entry when applied at the first symptoms, exerts an action that helps prevent the spread of the virus to healthy tissue. It will help limit the growth of. It reduces cold sore symptoms’ healing time and duration, including pain, burning, stinging, and itching.

If possible, try to limit your exposure to the triggers described in the “Causes” section. For example, if the sun tends to cause to appear, apply sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 30 to your lips and face 30 minutes before going out in the sun. It would help if you also escape tanning beds. Also, reduce your stress by eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising.

In people who often have severe or have weakened immune systems, the doctor may prescribe medication on an ongoing basis to inhibit the virus.

To avoid becoming infected with the herpes simplex virus, it is essential to avoid contact. Never touch the active lesions of other people (by kissing or oral sex).

When cold sores are active, wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading the virus to others. Also, try not to go near newborn babies or weakened immune systems, as these people are more vulnerable to developing.

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