Skin Care Problems Cold Sores

Also referred to as fever blisters or oral herpes, cold sores arise as the result of a viral infection by the herpes simplex virus. People who have contracted this strain of the herpes virus will experience cold sores, small red blisters around their mouths that range from being tender to painful.

Although the symptoms of cold sores often resemble those of canker sores, these two skin problems are quite distinct. For example, because a virus causes cold sores, they are contagious. Alternately, canker sores arise as a byproduct of oral ulcers. As a result, canker sores aren’t contagious.

Causes of Cold Sores

The herpes simplex virus type 1 is responsible for causing cold sores. Genital warts arise from the herpes simplex type 2 virus. However, both strains of the herpes virus can cause a person to suffer from either one of these symptoms.

People usually contract the herpes simplex type 1 virus by coming into contact with an infected person. Effective methods of transmission include:

  • kissing an infected individual
  • using a razor of an infected individual
  • using a towel of an infected individual
  • using the utensils of an infected individual.

Because cold sores are symptomatic of an underlying virus, they can recur periodically throughout life once a person has contracted the virus. Viral infections are incurable.

Although doctors can’t cure cold sores, they have identified some factors that can bring them on or intensify their presence. Cold sores typically worsen when an infected person experiences:

  • fever
  • menstruation
  • overexposure to the sun
  • stress.

Cold Sore Symptoms

Before cold sores arise, infected people will start to experience itchiness and increased sensitivity around their lips and mouth. Once a cold sore has developed, symptoms include:

  • pain
  • red, fluid-filled blisters
  • tingling or burning sensations.

While cold sores typically last anywhere from a week to 10 days, they can persist for longer, depending on the severity of your outbreak. Similarly, just as the duration can vary, so too can the affected location. Typically, cold sores develop around the mouth region. However, they can also arise on your:

  • chin
  • fingers
  • gums
  • hard palate (the roof of the mouth)
  • nostrils.

Sores that affect the soft tissues of your mouth, such as your inner cheek tissue are usually canker sores, rather than cold sores.

The typical life of a cold sore starts with sensitivity, tingling and possibly pain in the area in which the sore is about to develop. Once the outbreak occurs, cold sores will generally last for about 10 days. At the end of their cycle, these liquid-filled blisters will break, allowing the liquid to ooze out. After all the liquid has been dispelled, the sore will crust over and soon slough off to reveal clean, unaffected skin. Cold sores don’t generally leave scars.

Cold Sore Treatments

Because cold sores are the result of a viral infection, no cure exists for them. Instead, taking steps to prevent them by avoiding the previously stated factors that bring them on and worsen them is the best way to avoid getting them.

While prevention is the best treatment, once cold sores appear, most patients simply have to endure them. In the worst cases, either those in which cold sores persist for extended periods or those in which outbreaks occur frequently, doctors will likely prescribe antiviral medication, such as Denavir® or Zovirax®.


MayoClinic (May 13, 2006). Cold Sore. Retrieved November 2, 2007 from the MayoClinic Web site: