I was recently asked to write about cold sores. This is an important topic and one that I often get asked about.
Cold sores, or herpes labialis, are caused by the herpes virus, or HSV. There are two types of HSV. In general, HSV 1 causes cold sores and HSV 2 causes genital herpes.
Cold sores are small, fluid filled blisters that usually appear on the lips or near the mouth. They can be extremely painful but usually resolve on their own. They are extremely contagious.
Blisters usually last 2 to 12 days. There may be a "prodrome" before the blister actually appears where there is a tingling sensation around the mouth. The lesions then appear and will eventually crust over and disappear. They may recur frequently in times of stress or they may never recur again. Once you are infected with the herpes virus, it stays in your body forever. It is important to avoid touching your face when you have an outbreak. Wash your hands frequently to avoid the spread of the virus.
So what do you do about them? I recommend Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain and a topical numbing agent. You can also try many over the counter cold sore medications such as Abreva. Treatment is mainly aimed at helping the symptoms until the sore goes away. If you suffer from cold sores you will generally find what works for you and stick to it.
If you have particularly severe or frequent outbreaks you may want to consider prescription medication. Talk to your health care provider about antiviral medication that can help shorten the duration of outbreaks or prevent them from happening.