Cold Sores Patient Guide
Developed by the dermatologists of Skin Care Guide

What are cold sores?

What are cold sores and HSV?
Cold sores, also called fever blister appear as a cluster of small blisters usually on the lips or around the mouth, especially the corners, and occasionally inside the nose.
Inflammation secondary to immune defense is also the cause of redness, swelling, and tenderness that is characteristic of herpes labialis lesions. As a result, although viral clearance happens rapidly following reactivation, the lesion often takes 7-10 days to heal completely. *

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by Herpes simplex virus-1 infection (HSV-1).
There are two types of HSV infections:
  • HSV type 1 is the commonest cause of cold sores.
  • HSV type 2 is more common in the genital area but is also responsible for at least 10% of cold sores in adults.*
The medical term for cold sores is herpes labialis.
You can catch the virus if you come into direct contact with the cold sore blisters or fluid inside them. Cold sores are highly contagious. So you are at risk of getting cold sores if you share cups, face cloths, towel, cigarette or any other personal items that come in contact with the blister or its fluid. Once the blisters have crusted over, it is no longer contagious.
There is no cure to cold sores, but some medication could help during the outbreak.

How often do cold sores occur?

Cold sores are asymptomatic for the majority of people, meaning that they do not show symptoms, although they are carriers of the virus. Some people initially break out with cold sores when infected, but then never break out after, with the virus in the dormant state. Unfortunately, due to certain genetic factors, some people break out with symptoms often, causing pain and irritation on a semi-regular basis.

What triggers cold sores?

There are a number of factors that are known to cause an outbreak of herpes labialis including:
  • Emotional and physical stress
  • Colds or other upper respiratory problems
  • Sun (including tanning beds) or wind exposure
  • Hormone changes such as those seen during menstruation
  • Dental surgery, local trauma or injury to the skin around the lips including dry cracked lips and injury to the skin following cosmetic surgery, chemical peels or laser therapy