Cold sores or herpes labialis are generally a result of an infection caused by the virus called Herpes Simplex Type 1. These red, fluid-filled blisters occur around the border of the lips. In rare cases, they may appear inside the mouth, nose, or on fingers.
The herpes simplex virus is a common but highly contagious virus that infects many American adults by the time they reach the age of 20. Cold sores can spread from person to person through close contact such as kissing.
How to Tell if I Have Herpes or Cold Sores?
It can take 1 to 3 weeks to develop symptoms after you come in contact with the herpes simplex virus. Most people experience a burning or tingling sensation around areas of their mouth, and small blisters at the edge of their lower lip.
Some of the most common signs of cold sores are:
- Several tiny blisters that grow together to form one large blister
- Crusty, yellow blisters
- Small blisters that contain yellowish or clear fluid
- Red blisters that burst and leak
Sometimes, these blisters are accompanied by:
- Sore throat
- Swollen Lymph nodes
- Pain while swallowing
- Muscle aches
Several days before a cold sore develops, you may notice a burning or tingling sensation on your face or lips.
As these sensations intensify, a cold sore will turn into a raised and red blister filled with fluid. There may be more than one sore.
Sores will be present for up to 2 weeks. Throughout this two-week period, cold sores are highly contagious until they develop a crust.
What Causes Herpes or Cold Sores?
Cold sores are generally caused by the virus herpes simplex type 1, but in some cases, it can also result from another virus named herpes simplex type 2. The latter is often transmitted through having oral sex with a person suffering from genital herpes.
The herpes virus – whether it’s type 1 or type 2 – is highly contagious. If you have close personal contact with an infected person, or if you touch surfaces or objects on which the virus may be present, you may also get infected. If you share personal items, e.g. grooming tools, towels, etc., with a potentially infected person, it’s best to stop sharing to prevent the risk of infection.
Interestingly, once the herpes virus gets inside your body, it can lie dormant inside your nerve cells without appearing for months or years at a time. However, some biological events may cause recurrence.
These events include:
- Hormonal changes
- Exposure to extreme temperatures or strong sunlight
- Weak immune system
- Infection in the upper respiratory system
- Dental surgery
What is the Best Way to Treat Cold Sores?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for cold sores. You can, however, take some medications to alleviate the pain and other symptoms, and prevent them from coming back.
Cold sores can go away on their own within 10 days of onset, however, using antiviral ointments can accelerate healing. Depending on your case, your doctor may prescribe antiviral tablets such as:
These medications can only shorten the course and ease the symptoms but cannot “cure” oral herpes or cold sores.
You may also try these at-home treatments to alleviate your symptoms faster:
- Wash your blisters with antiseptic soap and water; this will prevent the virus from spreading to other parts of your body
- Avoid consuming salty, spicy foods, or hot drinks
- Apply ice or cold compress to the blisters to reduce pain
Do I Need to See a Doctor for Cold Sores?
There are certain complications associated with untreated cold sores. The first time you get infected with the herpes simplex virus, your body hasn’t built up a defense to it yet. And since there is no vaccine or cure for it, it can lead to severe complications in some cases.
Call a doctor right away if you notice any of these signs:
- Persistent or high fever
- Itchy, irritated, red eyes (there may or may not be some discharge)
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
If you have eczema or a condition that has weakened your immune system such as AIDS, cancer, or COVID-19, you are more likely to experience complications. If you have any of these conditions, see a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you have a cold sore.
Get Same-Day Cold Sore Treatment Online
During a phone (with uploaded photos) or video consultation on 24 Hour Docs, your doctor will ask you a series of questions to determine whether you have a cold sore or something else. If a positive diagnosis is determined, the doctor can prescribe a combination of antiviral creams, antiviral drugs, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease your discomfort.
We will send this prescription to a pharmacy near you where you can either pick it up yourself or have it delivered to your doorstep!
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