More than 50% of
men over age 40
over age 40
We are finding the
We are finding
What are Cold Sores?
What are Cold Sores?
Cold sores are small blisters, usually on or around your lips, caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Another type of HSV, called HSV-2, causes blisters or sores on your genitals but can sometimes cause a cold sore on your lip. The opposite is also true: you can sometimes develop genital sores from HSV-1 from oral sex.
Cold sores usually occur outside the mouth. Inside the mouth, they usually occur on the gums or the roof of the mouth. They are not the same as canker sores, which are not contagious.
The cold sore virus is spread by kissing or other personal contact with someone who is infected, whether they’re experiencing symptoms or not. It may also spread through open sores or objects that have been in contact with the herpes virus, such as razors, towels, water bottles, and utensils. Parents can spread HSV-1 to their children during regular daily activities. Once you’ve been exposed to the virus, it continues to live in your body for the rest of your life and may cause periodic flare-ups or breakouts.
The virus lives in a cluster of nerves along the side of your face called the trigeminal ganglion. A cold sore breaks out when the area becomes irritated, and the virus moves along your nerves to the lip.
These sores can be triggered by stress, sunburn, sunlight, fever, menstruation, tiredness, infection, and digestive illness.
The first time you get a cold sore can be a painful experience. The symptoms can be severe and can include intense swelling, sore throat, swollen glands, fever, and muscle aches. You may develop small blisters inside your mouth, too.
Subsequent episodes may be less severe. Symptoms include:
• Warning signs such as itching, burning, and tingling around the mouth or on the lips a few days before a sore breaks out
• A single blister or a cluster of blisters
• Fluid-filled blisters
• Dry, irritated skin around the lips
After the sores break open, the blisters become bright red, dry up, and crust over. They eventually clear up within 7–10 days.
Who It Affects
Anyone exposed to the HSV-1 virus can become infected and develop cold sores. HSV-1 infects more than half of people in the United States by the time they reach their 20s¹, and between 50% and 80% of adults have oral herpes.² Worldwide, 3.7 billion people under age 50 are infected with HSV-1.³
Most of the time, people with HSV-1 are asymptomatic and don’t have any symptoms. Outbreaks can be triggered by:
• Viral infection or fever
• Hormonal changes, such as those related to menstruation
• Exposure to sunlight and wind
• Changes in the immune system
• Injury to the skin
Some people are more likely to have frequent cold sores or severe outbreaks. These include people with a weakened immune system or advanced HIV.
What Treatment Looks Like
You can often manage an occasional cold sore at home with personal care and self-treatment. In most cases, sores go away on their own. However, over-the-counter medications can help reduce some of your symptoms like:
• Pain relievers
• Numbing cream
• Zinc oxide ointment after a crust forms
• Rubbing alcohol or ointment to dry out the sores
Sunscreen and skin protection in cold weather and wind may also prevent new cold sores. If you experience cold sores several times a year, a healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medicine, which might be pills or creams. These help reduce pain and help your cold sores heal faster. They might also reduce the frequency of breakouts. These medicines work best if you take them when you have warning signs of a cold sore, before blisters develop. If you get mouth sores frequently, your healthcare provider might recommend that you take these medicines all the time.
Talk with a healthcare professional if your symptoms are severe, cold sores persist longer than a few weeks, you develop a high fever, or you notice eye irritation, sores, or blisters near your eyes. Herpes infection of the eye is a leading cause of blindness in the United States.⁴
How Cue Can Help You Find Relief
Cold sores often appear when you have a weakened immune system, high stress levels, or a minor illness like a cold.
It’s common to feel embarrassed or frustrated when outbreaks occur, but knowing how to get rid of cold sores at home can help you ease your symptoms. Speaking with a healthcare provider can help you figure out the best treatment plan for you.
Cue makes it easy to find solutions that work for you conveniently and discreetly. You can order medications and speak with a board-certified clinician from the comfort of home, all through the Cue Health App.