What’s a Cold Sore?

Most of us have seen a cold sore at one time or another. Even if you haven’t experienced one yourself, you’d probably recognize one. But what exactly is a cold sore?

A cold sore is a blister or cluster of blisters that forms around the mouth, most commonly at the edges of the lips. You may have also heard them called “fever blisters,” though they’re not necessarily associated with a fever.

What Causes Cold Sores in the Corner of My Mouth?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. There are two types of HSV—type 1, which causes cold sores, and type 2, which affects the genital area.

HSV-1 is incredibly common. More than half of Americans have been infected by this type of HSV by age 20, though being infected doesn’t automatically mean you will develop cold sores. Between 20% and 40% of those who are infected develop cold sores. You can get HSV-1 by sharing personal items, like lip balm or a toothbrush, with someone who is infected, or by kissing or touching someone while cold sores are active.

When cold sores develop, they typically occur outside the mouth, either on the lips or in the area immediately surrounding them. They can also appear inside the mouth, most commonly on the gums or the roof of the mouth.

How Do I Get Rid of a Cold Sore?

That’s a bit of a trick question, actually. There’s no cure for cold sores, and they normally go away on their own within a couple weeks.

It’s important to know, though, that once you develop HSV-1, the virus stays in your body even when cold sores aren’t present. If the virus activates again, another cold sore can appear.

If you have a cold sore, there are steps you can take to ease your discomfort until the blister heals:

  • Know what you’re dealing with. If you think your blister may be something other than a cold sore, a visit to River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department can help you confirm a diagnosis.
  • Take an antiviral if one is prescribed. In some cases, an antiviral medication may be prescribed to help the cold sore heal faster.
  • Use over-the-counter or prescription medications to ease pain. A doctor or pharmacist can help you choose products to help with discomfort by numbing the blister or drying it out. Because River’s Edge Express Clinic is located near the pharmacy at the Hilltop Hy-Vee, you can pick up your prescription or medications right after you get care.
  • Apply a cold compress. An ice pack applied to the lips can help ease discomfort by temporarily numbing the area, as can drinking or eating something cold.

How Do I Avoid Cold Sores?

Wondering how to prevent cold sores in the first place? If you’ve been diagnosed with HSV-1, your doctor may prescribe regular doses of an antiviral to help prevent outbreaks.

To keep from giving the virus to others, you’ll want to be especially careful when you have a cold sore. Until your sore has scabbed over, avoid kissing, sharing food or drink, or sharing personal care items like lip balm. Try to avoid touching the sore, and wash your hands promptly if you do touch it.

Not sure if your painful sore is a cold sore or something more? Stop by River’s Edge Express Clinic to have it checked out, quickly and conveniently!

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