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Valentines Day: Cold Sores 101 and Remedies

cold sore

With Valentine’s Day approaching, cold sores can be a source of anxiety and frustration. Since they generally form on or around the lips, they can be painful and unsightly. Not to mention, they’re highly contagious. Thankfully, you can identify and treat them, so you won’t have to worry about them come February 14. Here are some symptoms, causes, and treatments for those small, irritating red bumps.


Cold sores typically arrive in the form of painful, small, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth. They often occur in concentrated patches, and after breaking they develop a scab. Usually, they heal in two to four weeks and leave no residual scars. The first outbreak a person has can oftentimes be the worst and may include painful blisters in and around the mouth area, swelling in the neck, or fever and body aches. When recurring symptoms return, they are usually unaccompanied by the more severe fever and aching. Since cold sores typically form in or around the mouth, they can often be confused as canker sores. Cold sores can occur any time after infection, and outbreaks can be detected a couple days before blisters appear. Early symptoms could include pain, burning, tingling, or itching in the mouth or throat.


Cold sores around the mouth are a result of the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. Once infected with HSV-1, the body retains it for the rest of life in the nervous system. There’s a chance it can staydormant and never cause symptoms. Even if dormant, the virus can be transmitted.Cold sores spread mostly through saliva or skin contact. They are remarkably common, withmany people experiencing their first outbreak in childhood. They can be contracted by sharingwater bottles, kissing, or otherwise making lip contact with the virus.According to the Mayo Clinic, over 90 percent of adults carry the virus that causes cold sores. 


Unfortunately, there’s no cold sore cure. However, they usually die down after a week or two on their own, and there are ways to remedy pain and speed up the healing process. Home cold sore remedies include getting plenty of rest, limiting stress, and using sunscreen to protect your skin from intense sun exposure. If these don’t do the trick, you can receive many medicinal treatments over the counter. Since cold sores are usually caused by a virus, if taken at first sign of symptoms over-the- counter antivirals like Abreva (Docosanol) can reduce the duration of a breakout. This is a great first option to address the virus at the root. Over the counter pain relievers can also complement the antiviral well in minimizing pain and swelling. This can include oral and topical solutions. If over-the-counter solutions don’t help, you can consult your doctor about prescription antivirals as needed or, if you’re prone to frequent outbreaks, daily.

Disclaimer: This blog provides general information and discussion about medical, cosmetic, mohs, and surgical dermatology. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed dermatologist or other health care worker.