Cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters, are groups of small blisters that form
on or near the lips caused by an infection from a virus called herpes simplex virus.
The skin around these blisters is often red, swollen, and very painful. There are
two types of this virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types can cause cold sores, though
HSV-1 accounts for the majority of episodes. Most often the virus is caught in early
childhood. Once the virus is in the body, there is no permanent cure.
The virus situates itself in small bundles of nerve cells located under the skin.
Once the virus takes up residence in the nerve cells, it becomes inactive. For some
people, the virus stays inactive forever, but there is no permanent cure. There
are triggers that can reactivate the virus causing an outbreak of cold sores.
Most cold sores will start to heal within a few days and are generally gone by 7
to 10 days.
Common Cold Sore Triggers
No one knows for sure what causes the cold sore virus to become active. In most
people, the exact triggers are unknown for a long time. It's a good idea to keep
a log of what you were doing, how you were feeling, and what happened in your life
just before an outbreak occurred. You may just find a pattern that can help monitor
Here are some of the more common triggers to watch for:
Stress and fatigue weaken your immune system. Get plenty of exercise, rest, and relaxation to combat these.
Your immune system is generally at its weakest just after fighting off another infection.
- If you are just getting over an infection, make sure you get plenty of fluids and rest.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays can burn and damage skin leaving it a prime target for a cold sore outbreak. Wind and cold can also chap and dry out your lips.
- In the summer, protect your skin by wearing plenty of sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat, and staying in the shade as much as possible.
- In the winter, protect your skin by wearing a scarf or otherwise covering your lips.
- Use a good lip balm with SPF coverage to help during all seasons.
This includes both direct injury as well as dental procedures.
- Be sure your dentist knows if you have experienced cold sores to prevent discomfort during visits to their office.
- For those participating in contact sports, consider wearing a mouth guard to minimize potential harm to the face.
Hormonal changes during menstruation and pregnancy can trigger cold sore virus activation.
- Be especially aware of early onset symptoms such as tingling or skin tightness around your mouth which can signal an impending cold sore.
Cold sores progress through 5 stages throughout a 7-10 day process. Knowing what
is coming will help you be prepared (and to know there is an end in sight!).
For more than 85% of cold sore sufferers, outbreaks often
begin with symptoms such as a tingling, tightness, soreness, or itching around the
lips (days 1-2 of an outbreak). This is the ideal time to begin treatment
with Orajel™ Single Dose.
As the infection develops (days 2-4 of an outbreak),
clumps of red, fluid filled blisters will begin to form. This is the result of the
virus waking up and multiplying with the body beginning to fight back.
A few days later (days 4-5 of an outbreak), the blisters
will burst open which can be very painful. At this point, the exposed and ulcerated
sores will begin to scab over as the body enters the healing process.
Once scabs have formed (days 5-8 of an outbreak),
you are near the end of the flare-up. These are often itchy and may crack open,
resulting in bleeding around the area, so don't pick at them.
Once the body has the virus back under control, the scabs will begin to peel off. For most people this
occurs 8-10 days from onset of symptoms without medication. You may notice the skin underneath is
pink or reddish for a while after the scabs fall off and that is to be expected.
At any stage of the cold sore cycle, you can help to protect your skin during the
healing process by applying Orajel™ Cold Sore Cream
to alleviate dryness discomfort and moisturize your skin.
Tips to Help Avoid Spreading Cold Sores
HSV is highly contagious and easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. If
you have had an active cold sore infection, keep these 3 tips in mind to help you
At the first tingle, you should be on alert for
a cold sore. That means you need to take extra precautions until you know for sure
if an infection is recurring or not. Do your best to avoid your triggers. This limits
not only the number of times you have to experience cold sores, but also the times
you can pass the infection to others.
Since any skin-to-skin contact
with an active, cold sore blister can trigger an infection in another person, you
should avoid close contact until the flare up is gone. Remember that most people
contract HSV as a child. Do not share any food, drink, straw, cup, lip balm, or
anything that goes on or near your mouth, and no kissing.
There is a good chance you will inadvertently
touch your cold sore, then another item. This is just about any object you can pick
up or touch, from eating utensils to soap to clothing. Therefore you need to be
conscious about keeping your hands away from your mouth during an active outbreak.
You should also wash your hands often and always, immediately, after touching your
The most common method for spreading cold sores is close contact with a person experiencing
an active infection. This includes kissing, sharing forks, spoons, knives, straws,
drinks, lip balms, and other forms of close contact. For the majority of patients,
transmission of the virus occurs during early childhood before the person is ever
aware they caught it.
Most people can safely treat cold sore outbreaks using over-the-counter remedies.
However, you should seek immediate medical attention if an eruption results in very
severe symptoms (such as the inability to swallow fluids and extreme pain).
Actually, there is... a doctor can take a sample of the fluid from the blister and
test it for the presence of the herpes simplex virus. It is generally unnecessary
as cold sore outbreaks can be commonly diagnosed by appearance alone.
These two outbreaks are commonly confused as they both occur near the same location, share many triggers such as stress, facial trauma, and hormonal changes, and present as painful injuries. It is important to distinguish them as there are specific treatments available for each.
- Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. They initially present as multiple fluid filled blisters most often occurring on or around the lips.
- Canker sores, by comparison, are not caused by a virus and occur as singular, painful open sores occurring mostly inside the mouth on the gums. They are round, with a white, yellow, or grey center surrounded by a bright red area.
Medical Illustration Copyright © 2012 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved. www.nucleusinc.com
While cold sores can be unsightly, it is estimated that at least 40% of people in the U.S. suffer from cold sores. Most often, the virus was caught during early childhood.
You can transmit cold sores as soon as they are activated. This means from the first symptom, such as tingle, skin tightness, and/or itching, you need to have heightened awareness of the contagious nature of the virus.
There are both prescription and over-the-counter medications that not only treat cold sores, but can also reduce the pain associated with cold sore outbreaks.
Until recently, your over-the-counter options were very limited if you wanted serious relief for serious cold sores. Try Orajel™ Single Dose... at any point during the outbreak, healing begins and much needed instant pain relief* is provided.
At any stage of the cold sore apply Orajel™ Cold Sore Cream to provide instant pain relief* and protect your skin. Be sure to wait at least one hour before using Orajel™ Cold Sore Cream after applying Orajel™ Single Dose. Use of a lip balm with good SPF coverage will also help to minimize further damage. Be sure to get plenty of rest to help the cold sore healing process.
Source: Kyle R. Copeland, Pharm.D.