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Cold Sores (Herpes Labialis): Symptoms, Risk Factors, Causes and Treatment

What are Cold Sores?

This condition also called fever blisters is a common viral infection. They are tiny, fluid-filled blisters on and around your lips. These blisters are often grouped in patches. After the blisters break, scab forms that can last several days. Cold sores typically heal in two to three weeks without leaving a scar.

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Risk Factors of Cold Sores

Once you have the virus, certain risk factors may activate it such as:

  • Sun exposure
  • Fever, cold, and infection
  • Weakened immune system
  • HIV and or AIDS
  • Severe burns
  • Dental work
  • Menstruation
  • Stress and eczema

You are at risk of getting a cold sore if you come in contact with the fluid of a cold sore through sharing foods, drinks, or kissing. Sharing personal care items such as toothbrushes and razors also spreads the virus. If you come in contact with the saliva of someone who has the virus, you can get the virus, even if there are no visible blisters.

Signs and Symptoms of Cold Sores

Signs and symptoms vary, depending on whether this is your first outbreak or a recurrence. The first time you have this condition, symptoms may not start for up to 20 days after you were first exposed to the virus. This includes:

  • Oozing and crusting. The small blisters may merge and then burst, leaving shallow open sores that ooze and crust over. 
  • Tingling and itching. Many people feel itching, burning, or tingling around the lips for a day or so before a small, hard, painful spot appears and blisters erupt.
  • Blisters. Small fluid-filled blisters typically erupt along the border of your lips. Sometimes they appear around the nose or cheeks or inside the mouth.

The sores can last several days, and the blisters can take two to three weeks to heal completely. Recurrences typically appear at the same spot each time and tend to be less severe than the first outbreak.

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In a first-time outbreak, you also might experience:

See your doctor if you experience:

  • The cold sores don’t heal within two weeks
  • Symptoms are severe
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • You experience irritation in your eyes
  • You have frequent recurrences of cold sores

What Causes of Cold Sores?

These conditions are caused by certain strains of the herpes simplex virus. HSV-1 usually causes cold sores. HSV-2 is usually responsible for genital herpes. But either type can spread to the face or genitals through close contact, such as kissing or oral sex. Shared eating utensils, razors, and towels might also spread HSV-1.

This condition is most contagious when you have oozing blisters because the virus easily spreads through contact with infected body fluids. But you can spread the virus even if you do not have blisters. Many people who are infected with the virus that causes cold sores never develop signs and symptoms. Once you have had an episode of herpes infection, the virus lies dormant in nerve cells in your skin and may emerge as another cold sore in the same place as before. 

Other causes of its reoccurrence are:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Viral infection or fever
  • Exposure to sunlight and wind
  • Fatigue
  • Injury to the skin
  • Changes in the immune system

Treatment, Management, and Prevention of Cold Sores

Cold sores generally clear up without treatment in two to four weeks. Several types of prescription antiviral medications may speed the healing process. Ensure to finish the treatment course to ensure recovery.

Medication Used for Cold Sores

Valacyclovir. It prevents and interferes with the possible reproduction of the virus. This is a prescription medication used for cold sores and other specified conditions. The commonly reported side effects of Valacyclovir are nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headaches. Avoid using this without any approval from your doctor. 

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