Cold Sores

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Overview of Cold Sores

Cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters on the mouth or nose. Commonly known as herpes labialis, they are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) through close contact with someone who has a cold sore. Sometimes cold sores are caused by herpes virus type 2 (HSV-2) as a consequence of having oral sex with someone who has genital herpes.1 Theinfection  may cause great concern to the otherwise healthy patient due to psychosocial issues.

Infection usually occurs in childhood when someone kissed by a family member who has a cold sore. The virus passes through the skin, travels in a nerve and hides in the nerve root until it is activated. When the virus is activated, it travels back to the skin, causing a tingling, burning or itching sensation. Within a few hours to days, the area may become reddened and develop small fluid-filled blisters. Several of these small blisters may coalesce and form one large blister. The lesions are typically located on mucocutaneous areas of the face and may eventually erode and ulcerate, leaving wounds that are known to be difficult to treat.

Many factors such as an episode of flu, menstrual period, emotional upset, fatigue, bright sunlight and cold winds can trigger attack of cold sores. Typically an outbreak will last from three days to one week.

First Aid of Cold Sores

The following first aid treatment can be applied when cold sores are present:

  • Apply cold compress to ease the pain from cold sores.
  • Use petroleum jelly (vaseline) or lip balms to keep the cold sore moist in order to prevent cracking and bleeding.
  • Application of a cream containing the drug acyclovir may help to lessen the duration and severity of the attack.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Cold sores are contagious. Wash your hands thoroughly if you accidentally touch a cold sore and after applying any medication.
  • Avoid touching your eyes and genitals when you have a cold sore infection.
  • Do not kiss people, especially children.
  • Do not have oral sex as this may lead to genital herpes.
  • Do not share your eating or drinking utensils, towels or face cloths with others.
  • Do not break the blister or pick the scab on the lesion.


1.Patel AR, Romanelli P, Roberts B, et al. Treatment of herpes simplex virus infection: Rationale for occlusion. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2007; 20(7): 408–412.

2.Spruance SL, Nett R, Marbury T, et al. Acyclovir cream for treatment of herpes simplex labialis: Results of two randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, multicenter clinical trials. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2002; 46(7): 2238–2243.

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 02, 2015

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