About Cold Sores

Cold sores (herpes simplex) are small, painful blisters that usually form on the lips or skin around the mouth, nose and on the chin. Formed by infection of the herpes simplex virus, initial exposure usually occurs in childhood and is characterised by the re-current formation of outbreaks particularly during times of low immunity, increased stress or direct trauma to the lip area (i.e Sun burn). The cold sore virus cannot be cured and remains active for life.

Whilst 90% of adults have herpes simplex antibodies in their system, only one-third may present with cold sores. Transmission is via saliva or direct contact with a blister. The most infectious period is the first couple of days as the blister forms. The frequency of outbreak is individual but may be triggered by:

  • Illness
  • Over exposure to sunlight
  • Exposure to windy or cold conditions
  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress (either emotional or physical)
  • Trauma to the lip area
  • As the cold sore virus is indicative of ongoing infection rather than primary infection, outbreaks usually recur in the same location.

The symptoms of an outbreak include:

  • Localised itching and tingling a day or two before the cold sore appears.
  • A collection of small blisters form
  • These blisters can be accompanied by pain, tenderness and a sensation of heat and burning.
  • The blisters burst after a few days.
  • The site develops a crust.
  • The crust dries up and eventually falls off after about 7 to 10 days.
Cold Sores

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