Cold Sores: Causes and Treatment

cold sores

Cold sores are a skin infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Although herpes carries a stigma, there is actually not much to be worried about, as you’ll discover below. Cold sores appear in the form of bumps filled with fluid. Typically, cold sores develop around the edges of the mouth. These bumps break open and form an off-color crust.

What is herpes, actually?

There are two types of herpes viruses. Type 1(HSV-1) is transmitted primarily through oral contact, while Type 2 (HSV-2) is transmitted through genital contact. Both strains are highly contagious. Herpes is also incurable, meaning once you’ve contracted the virus, it stays in your body forever. Cold sores are caused by HSV-1. The World Health Organization estimates that 67% of people globally under age 50—3.7 billion in total—have HSV-1. With so many people infected with the herpes virus, it is highly probable that you will contract the virus, too, at some point in your life.

How can cold sores be treated?

Thankfully, cold sores are not threatening. In most cases, they are just a minor nuisance that can be cared for relatively simply. Treatments seek to eliminate the burning, tingling or itchy sensation that cold sores may be causing. Antiviral creams and pills are the most common prescriptions that our dermatologists recommend. Symptoms of the cold sore will go away in a few days for most people, but the healing process takes a while longer. It may take two to four weeks for the cold sore to heal completely, depending on the person.

People may discover that certain factors cause their cold sores to flare up. Triggers for flare ups commonly include stress, illness or sun exposure. Though most of these factors are out of your control, it is helpful to know what might be behind a suddenly-irritating cold sore.

Cold sores, although not dangerous, can be annoying and even cause some social anxiety. They are a very common problem, and roughly 90% of people will develop a cold sore or fever blister over the course of their life. Since this is such a common infection, our dermatologists are well-prepared to help you make your cold sore disappear. If you would like to meet with one of our dermatologists, we offer same day and next day appointments that can be scheduled on our website or by calling 651-209-1600.

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