A cold sore is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus and is highly contagious. It is transmitted from person to person by physical contact. Once infected, a person carries that infection for the rest of his/her life. It can remain dormant and then suddenly erupt. There are numerous triggers of a cold sore outbreak including stress, fever, flu, cosmetic or dental procedures and even prolonged sun exposure. HSV can appear anywhere on the body but most commonly it appears on the mouth or genitals. There are two types of the Herpes Simplex Virus: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 typically occurs on the mouth or face and Type 2 generally occurs in the genital area.
Typically, a day or two prior to an outbreak one will feel a burning, tingling or itchy sensation in the area where the cold sore will emerge. Then, the HSV sore will erupt as a small, painful blister or group of blisters. Occasionally, an HSV outbreak can manifest with flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes. With oral herpes (HSV-1) blisters typically appear on the mouth or face but can appear anywhere on the body. Genital herpes (HSV-2) typically appears in the genital area (but can also, less commonly, appear anywhere on the body).
There is no cure for HSV, which can remain dormant in the body for years. An outbreak will resolve without treatment but treatment can shorten the course of the outbreak and mitigate the symptoms. Treatment of HSV requires an antiviral medication that comes in both topical and systemic forms. For some people who have numerous outbreaks a year, some prescription medications, when taken daily, can suppress outbreaks altogether.
*This webpage is for informational purposes and is not intended to be, and should not be relied upon as, medical advice. Any medical concerns should be addressed with a physician.