Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are groups of small blisters on the lip and around the mouth. The skin around the blisters is often red, swollen, and sore. The blisters may break open, leak a clear fluid, and then scab over after a few days. For some people, cold sores are painful. They usually heal in several days to two weeks.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which usually enters the body though a break in the skin around or inside the mouth. The virus can spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid like from sharing eating utensils or kissing an infected person. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body.
Symptoms may include pain around the mouth or on the lips, a fever, a sore throat or swollen glands in the neck or other parts of the body. Small children sometimes drool before cold sores appear. Some people have the virus but don't get cold sores. They have no symptoms. Once in your body, the virus stays for the rest of your life.
A doctor can evaluate your cold sores and recommend treatment such as skin cream, ointments or pills. Treatments may get rid of the cold sores only 1 or 2 days faster but can ease the pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
To reduce the number of outbreaks of cold sores and to prevent spreading the virus to others:
- Avoid things that trigger them such stress and colds or the flu.
- Always use lip balm and sunscreen on the face. Too much sunlight can cause cold sores to flare.
- Avoid sharing towels, razors, silverware, toothbrushes, or other objects that a person with a cold sore may have used.
- When you have a cold sore, make sure to wash your hands often, and try not to touch your sore. This can help keep you from spreading the virus to your eyes or genital area or to other people.
Today’s expert is Jay Rust, physician assistant at ThedaCare Physicians-New London.