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What is a Cold Sore?

Cold sores are a viral infection that consists of fluid-filled blisters around and on the lip area. Cold sores are usually grouped together in patches and can be slightly painful and red. Once the blisters break, a scab forms that can last for a week or longer. Thankfully, you can get relief with the right cold sore treatment. Read on to learn more about cold sores and what to expect if you're dealing with these irritating blisters.

Alivio para los labios

Cold sores on lips can result in pain and discomfort. They are caused by a contagious virus and can be spread to others, so treating cold sores is crucial. There are a variety of remedies for cold sores that are available over the counter. Cold sore ointment and cream catalyze healing and reduce pain using antiseptic and anesthetic ingredients. Some treatments, like Orajel for cold sores y Abreva, can work in just a few days. You can also try a product formulated with the amino acid lysine for cold sores.

There are a number of factors that can trigger cold sores, including cold weather and bitter wind. Keeping your lips hydrated may help. Moisturizing lip balms that contain cold sore medication can soothe your skin and promote healing. If you are worried about people noticing the blemish, cold sore patches and bandages are made from semi-transparent hydrocolloid that gently adheres to the skin, hiding the cold sore and protecting it from bacteria and other contaminants. These bandages also allow for the application of lip makeup to further conceal the cold sore. Makeup should never be applied.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are caused by a contagious virus called herpes. Type 1 of this virus, called herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), typically causes cold sores while Type 2 (HSV-2) is most often responsible for causing genital herpes. However, both strains can affect the mouth and genital area.

Canker Sore vs. Cold Sore?

The term canker sore and cold sore is often confused for the same thing, but they're actually different conditions. Canker sores only occur on the inside of your mouth and can be found on the gums, the inside of your cheeks or lips, on or below the tongue, or in the soft palate near the back and roof of your mouth. Canker sores present a burning, tingling feeling before they appear, similar to cold sores. However, cold sores are usually on the outside of your mouth near the lips and under the nose. Cold sores fill with fluid and can be painful. Eventually, cold sores can turn into scabs that can last for a week or longer until the sore is fully healed. The location of the sore is the easiest way to tell whether you have a cold sore or a canker sore. However, each one is caused by different things. Canker sores can be a result of a mouth injury, deficiency in nutrients like B12 or iron, or fluctuations in hormones. Some people get canker sores from a reaction to spicy foods, nuts, or chocolate. Cold sores are caused by infection from certain strains of HSV (herpes simplex virus). This virus is quite contagious, and cold sores can transmit from person to person if oozing sores are present. Do not share utensils, cups, or toothbrushes if you have cold sores since this can cause it to spread to others. If you are unsure if you have a cold sore or canker sore, always consult your doctor or health care provider.

What Do Cold Sores Look Like?

Cold sores appear as small groups of blisters, usually on the lips or around the edges of the mouth. The surrounding skin may look red or swollen, and may feel sore or even painful. The blisters may break open and ooze a clear fluid. After a few days, the oozing sores will scab over and eventually disappear. If you are unsure if what you are observing is a cold sore or if this is the first time you have developed cold sores, it is best to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will most likely be able to diagnose your cold sores on sight, although in some cases your doctor may want to swab the area to test first.

Are Cold Sores Contagious?

Cold sores are at their most contagious when oozing blisters are visible. However, once you are infected with the virus, it lies dormant in your system, and so it is possible to transmit the virus to another person even when you don't have visible sores. The virus that causes cold sores can be spread by direct skin-to-skin contact or by contact with saliva that is infected with the virus. Common ways the virus may spread include: sharing utensils, razors, towels, and other personal care products, as well as kissing and oral sex.

Cold Sore Stages

Cold sores present themselves in different stages. Here's what to expect if you have a cold sore:

  • You may feel a slight tingling or burning sensation around the lip area when a cold sore first begins to form.
  • After the tingling, a fluid-filled blister may form on the lip area, near the nose, or possibly on other parts of the face.
  • The blister can eventually burst (usually around day 4) and start to "weep" a clear fluid. This is when cold sores are the most contagious.
  • Around day 5 to day 8, the cold sore can start to form a dry scab. Cold sore scabs tend to be red, brown, or yellow in color and will eventually start to flake off.
  • The final stage is the healing stage when the scab has fully healed and disappears. In most cases, the cold sore should not leave scarring behind.
  • If you feel a cold sore start to form, it's best to treat it as soon as possible with an over the counter treatment to shorten the symptoms and get relief.

    How to Get Rid of Cold Sores

    How to treat cold sores depends on the individual. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to treat your cold sores. For most people, the sores will go away on their own within a few weeks, so there is nothing you need to do to get rid of them. However, some over the counter medications may help reduce your discomfort and may help lessen the time that it takes for the cold sores to go away. Applying a cold sore ointment that contains docosanol may help cold sores to go away faster. One popular option is Abreva, an FDA-approved cold sore treatment that contains docosanol. Cold sore cream that contains a drying agent, such as alcohol, may also help to speed up healing. If your primary concern is discomfort, look for a cold sore ointment that is formulated with a numbing agent like lidocaine or benzocaine, such as Orajel. If you have just developed a cold sore for the first time, have cold sores that reoccur very often, or have cold sores that last for a very long time, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options.

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