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Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). These small, fluid-filled blisters typically appear on or around the lips, but they can also manifest on the nose, chin, or cheeks. Cold sores are highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with the blister or through saliva.
The initial outbreak of cold sores is often preceded by a tingling or burning sensation, which is followed by the formation of small, red bumps. These bumps then evolve into painful blisters filled with fluid. After a few days, the blisters burst, leaving behind open sores that gradually crust over and heal within a week or two.
Although cold sore outbreaks are generally harmless, they can be uncomfortable and unsightly. The primary infection with HSV usually occurs during childhood or adolescence, and the virus remains dormant in the body. Factors such as stress, fatigue, hormonal changes, and a weakened immune system can trigger a cold sore outbreak.
Symptoms typically begin to appear 2-12 days after exposure. These can include:
Redness and swelling
Small, painful blisters
Pain or discomfort in the affected area
Tingling or itching sensation on spot where cold sores are about to develop
Antiviral medications (oral and topical) can be prescribed for severe or recurring outbreaks. These cold sore medicines work by inhibiting the replication of the herpes simplex virus, reducing the duration and severity of outbreaks. Commonly prescribed antivirals include:
Acyclovir - An antiviral medication that helps to reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks, as well as relieve associated symptoms. It is available in pill and ointment form.
Valacyclovir - Another antiviral medication, valacyclovir is more efficiently absorbed by the body than acyclovir, and it is more often used as a preventative cold sore treatment to reduce the frequency of future outbreaks.
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HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus type 1) and HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus type 2) are two different strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Most outbreaks are caused by HSV-1. While HSV-1 is traditionally associated with oral herpes and HSV-2 with genital herpes, the distinction is not absolute, and both types can cause infections in either location.
Currently, there is no known cure for the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that causes this type of infection. After the initial herpes infection, the virus can become dormant in nerve cells and reactivate periodically, leading to future outbreaks. However, while cold sores cannot be cured, they can be effectively managed with cold sore creams or prescription antiviral drugs.
The duration of antiviral treatment can vary depending on various factors. Antivirals are typically taken for 5 to 10 days. After your online assessment, your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan that works for you. If you have frequent outbreaks, your doctor may recommend ongoing treatment for cold sore prevention.
Cold sores typically resolve on their own within 2-3 weeks without treatment. However, antiviral medications can relieve symptoms, shorten healing time, prevent transmission to others, and avert complications such as secondary bacterial infection. Request an online doctor visit from one of our certified physicians to go over your treatment options.
Yes, cold sores are highly contagious. They can be transmitted through direct contact with the sore or the fluids from it, such as saliva, and also through kissing, oral sex, or sharing some personal items.
Yes, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) in most cases. Less commonly, cold sores can be caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which is typically associated with genital herpes but can also cause oral herpes infections.
Yes, cold sores can be painful. They often cause a burning or tingling sensation before they appear and can be accompanied by pain, discomfort, and itching once they develop.
Yes, cold sores are relatively common. It's estimated that a significant portion of the population has been infected with the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores, and outbreaks can occur intermittently in those who are infected.
The tendency to develop cold sores can have a genetic component, as individuals with a family history of cold sores may have a higher risk of experiencing them. However, due to the aggressive rate of spread by the herpes simplex virus, the genetic factor for cold sores is not necessarily a determinant that is considered.