Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are caused by a viral infection. These fluid-filled blisters that form near the mouth or on other areas of the face. In rare cases, these sores may appear on the fingers, nose, or inside the mouth and are usually clumped up in patches.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The type that causes cold sores is the herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1), while the herpes simplex type 2 virus (HSV-2) causes genital herpes.
Visible cold sores are usually contagious and may spread even when they can’t be seen. You can get HSV by coming into contact with infected individuals, which may happen through kissing, sharing personal items, food, and sex.
People who get cold sores usually notice a tingling or burning sensation on the lips or face several days before a cold sore develops. Once the sore forms, you’ll see a raised, red blister full of fluid which an be painful to the touch. It will stay up to about 2 weeks and will be contagious until it crusts over. Other symptoms include fever, muscle aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
Cold Sore Risk Factors
According to the Mayo Clinic, about 90% of adults worldwide test positive for the HSV type 1 virus and once you have it, certain risk factors may reactivate it such as infection, fever or a cold, sun exposure, stress, HIV/AIDS or a weakened immune system, menstruation, severe burns, eczema, chemotherapy, and dental work.
There is no cure for cold sores, but those infected with the herpes simplex virus rarely have outbreaks. When these develop, there are several ways to treat them:
Ointments and creams may be able to control pain and promote healing, particularly antiviral ointments. They are also most effective if applied as soon as the first signs of a sore appear. Symptoms may also be eased by applying ice or washcloths soaked in cold water over the sores.
To prevent the spread of cold sores to other people, be sure to wash your hands often and avoid contact with others. Do not share personal items as well. If cold sores pop up each time you get stressed, practice stress management techniques such as meditation and journaling.