Cold Sores

Cold sores, also known as herpes simplex labialis or fever blisters, are experienced by almost half the American population, aged between 14 to 49. In fact, it’s estimated that about 90 percent of the world’s population has at least one type of HSV which causes these cold sores.
So, what really are cold sores?
Cold sores are basically small, painful red blisters filled with fluid that appear in groups on the lips and around the mouth area and rarely on the nose, fingers, or inside the mouth. They appear as patches and can last for about two to three weeks.

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They are typically caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 which, as previously stated, is very common. And being highly contagious, cold sores can be spread by close contact between people.  
While there’s no permanent cure for them to keep them from coming back, their symptoms can be managed through medication. Moreover, treatment can help future outbreaks by reducing their frequency as well as severity.

What Causes Cold Sores  

While most cases of cold sores are caused due to HSV-1, in some cases, they may be caused by HSV-2. Both viruses can be spread via close contact such as kissing, oral sex, or even sharing items like towels, cosmetics, and razors, or in some cases, utensils.
Once a person catches the virus, it remains in the nerve cells in the skin for life, but for the most part, it’s dormant. However, a cold sores outbreak can get triggered at any point due to several health conditions such as:

  • An injury that affects the skin
  • A wide range of hormonal changes (mensuration usually)
  • A fever or viral infection
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme stress
  • Any significant changes to the immune system (during an illness)
  • Exposure to natural elements like wind and strong sunlight
  • Certain foods
  • Allergies
  • Cosmetic surgery or dental work

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What Do Cold Sores Look Like?

Cold sores themselves are a symptom of the herpes simplex virus. However, sometimes oral herpes cases have no symptoms at all. But some people who’re infected may get cold sores. These appear usually as red blisters on lips or around the mouth area, but they may appear on other parts of the face too.
Typically, the sore appears near the site where the virus has entered the body. And one may not develop cold sores right after being infected—it could take up to 20 days in first-time infection cases for the cold sores to appear.
The cold sores appear in stages:
Stage 1: An itching, burning, or tingling feeling near the place where the sore will appear—this is the best time to start treatment.
Stage 2: After about 12 to 24 hours of itching, blisters start appearing in patches that are red, swollen, and typically very painful.
Stage 3: The blisters eventually release the infected fluid. The open blisters remain for 2 to 3 days — this is a highly contagious period.
Stage 4: Scabs start forming at this point, and they may crack and bleed.
Stage 5: The scab sheds on its own.

Cold sores may be accompanied by other symptoms:

  • Swollen glands and gums
  • Muscle ache
  • Fever

There can be additional symptoms with first-time infections:

  • Stomach problems
  • A sore throat
  • Burning sensation in the mouth accompanied by pain
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty swallowing

Additionally, if any symptoms related to the eye or eye area appear, it’s imperative to reach out to a doctor. This is because in some rare cases, the herpes simplex virus could result in complete and irrecoverable vision loss if left untreated.

Common FAQs Linked to Cold Sores

Can Children Get Cold Sores?

Children can get cold sores as well. Children who’re younger than 5 years of age may have cold sores inside their mouths and the lesions that appear may be mistaken for cancer sores. Moreover, since most children get cold sores for the first time, their symptoms can be fairly severe and there’s a chance that the infected child may become seriously sick.  

When Are Cold Sores Most Contagious?

Because the virus spreads fairly easily through infected body fluids so having oozing blisters is a relatively more contagious phase. However, a large number of patients with the virus may never show any symptoms but can still pass on the virus to someone else.

What’s the Best Time to Start Treatment?

The best time to start treatments like ointments and oral antiviral medication is when you notice the tingling sensation. This is when the blisters haven’t yet formed and starting treatment early can reduce their severity and the overall duration.

Can Cold Sores Be Deadly?

Usually, cold sores are fairly manageable and disappear within 2 to 3 weeks without leaving any scars, but for some, they can be life-threatening. Cold sores may become more serious in people with very weak immune systems due to aids or other conditions or medications.

Do Home Remedies for Cold Sores Work?

Home remedies like cold compresses and creams and balms may work temporarily to ease the pain and appearance of the blisters. Pain medication like ibuprofen or certain over-the-counter ointments and creams with lidocaine and benzocaine may also help. But it’s best to start antiviral medication with a doctor’s advice.

Can There Be Any Severe Complications from Cold Sores?

Although rare, complications from cold sores are not unheard of.  The virus may spread to other body parts causing long-term damage. Herpes whitlow can develop on the fingers while you may get warts or ulcers on the genitals. Other complications include eczema herpeticum on the skin, HSV keratitis that can lead to vision loss, and meningitis.

How Can I Lower the Risk of Contracting Cold Sores?

To lower the risk of outbreaks, simple steps can be taken:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have open blisters
  • Keep your immune system strong
  • Stay away from triggers when possible after getting infected for the first time

How Can TelMDCare Help You with Cold Sores?

While there is no permanent cure for cold sores, medication can be used to manage the sores and future outbreaks.
Our certified urgent care physicians are just one appointment away and can take a look at your blisters and prescribe antiviral medication that can reduce the pain and duration of the cold sores. Moreover, they can recognize rare and potentially harmful symptoms that you may have missed.
Early treatment can also help you reduce the frequency and severity of future outbreaks and our experienced physicians can guide you on how to best prevent future outbreaks.
Our healthcare services are both convenient and affordable. Sign up and book an appointment today to let us help you deal with your cold sores.

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