Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the virus that causes cold sores. There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the most common type, and it usually causes oral herpes or cold sores. HSV-2 is the type that usually causes genital herpes. However, either type can cause either oral or genital herpes.
What Causes Cold Sores?
The HSV-1 virus causes cold sores. The virus is usually passed from person to person by kissing, sharing eating utensils or drinking cups, or through contact with saliva. It can also be passed from an infected person to a non-infected person by sharing objects such as lip balm, toothbrushes, or razors.
Once a person is infected with HSV-1, the virus stays in the body for life. It usually lies dormant (inactive) in the nerves near the spinal cord. But the virus can become active again. When this happens, it travels down the nerves to the skin, causing a cold sore.
What Are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?
The most common cold sore symptom is a small blister that appears on the lip or around the mouth. The blister is usually filled with clear fluid and may be surrounded by redness and swelling. Cold sores typically last for about a week and then go away on their own.
Other symptoms of cold sores can include:
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Muscle aches
Treatments of Cold Sores
There is no cure for cold sores, but treatments are available to shorten the duration of the outbreak and lessen the severity of symptoms.
Treatment can also help to prevent future outbreaks. The most common treatment for cold sores is a topical cream or ointment, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir. These medications can help to speed up the healing process and shorten the duration of the outbreak.
Some people may also find relief from home remedies, such as applying a cold, damp cloth to the affected area or using a lip balm or cream that contains an anti-viral agent.
When to See a Doctor
Most people with HSV-1 infection do not need to see a doctor because the infection usually goes away on its own. However, you should see a doctor if you have any of the following:
- Sores that last longer than two weeks
- Sores that are extremely painful
- Sores that are spreading to other parts of your body
- Sores that are causing difficulty eating or drinking
- Sores that are causing difficulty breathing