Strategies to avoid and/or treat them
Everyone who gets them dreads them: cold sores can be as embarrassing as they are uncomfortable
Everyone who gets them dreads them: cold sores can be as embarrassing as they are uncomfortable.
A contagious infection caused by the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), cold sores are fluid-filled lesions that can last for a week or longer. (Don’t let the name fool you; the cause of genital herpes is herpes simplex virus-2.)
Cold sores usually appear near the mouth: on the lips, chin, and cheeks. Sometimes they show up in the nostrils or on the roof of the mouth or the gums. (Canker sores, by contrast, usually appear inside the cheek, under the tongue.)
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms may not show up for one to three weeks after exposure to the HSV. You may experience:
Catching cold sores
HSV can be passed along by skin-to-skin contact and is highly contagious. The risk of infection is greatest from the time the blisters appear until they’ve completely dried and crusted over. However, the virus can still be spread, even after the skin has healed.
Once you’ve had an episode of HSV, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells of your skin and can appear again at or near the original location.
Fever, menstruation, stress, fatigue, and sun exposure can all trigger a recurrence.
Ways to avoid an infection
Cold sores can’t be cured, but there’s much you can do to help ease discomfort and speed healing.