Cold Sores

1. What are Cold sores and how can I get diagnosed?

Cold sores (oral herpes) are non-genital herpes simplex virus with type 1. Cold sores usually show up around the mouth (including lips) as a cluster of blisters with a red base. They are also called fever blisters.

The diagnosis is usually made clinically by the appearance of the lesions (grouped vesicles or ulcers on a red base) and patient history.

2. What are the symptoms?

They may be painful and feel itchy, dry or crusty. If the blisters recur later down the road as a recurrent infection, you may feel a tingling feeling without any visible blister before the blisters or sores appear on the skin.

3. How can cold sores be transmitted? What are the causes?

It is a common infection usually transmitted during childhood via nonsexual contact (such as kissing or sharing utensils/towels with a person who is positive with oral herpes. e.g, parents or siblings). Cold sores are caused by a type of virus called herpes simplex virus, which is contagious.

It is usually spread by direct contact with someone who is positive for herpes simplex virus type 1. Direct contacts include kissing or sharing eating utensils or towels. It is the most contagious when there are visible open, blister-like sores.

4. What is the treatment for cold sores? Does the medication cure cold sores?

The treatment is antiviral medication such as Acyclovir, Valacyclovir or Famciclovir.

There is no cure for oral herpes. However, taking antiviral medication as a suppression plan with a daily antiviral medication prevents or shortens outbreaks. It can also make it less likely to transmit the infection to close contacts.

Even though the medication resolves the symptoms, the herpes virus stays in your body (hiding in nerve cells) even when you don’t have oral herpes. If the virus becomes active again, it causes oral herpes to reactivate, causing recurrent oral herpes.

Here are some factors to contribute to such recurrence of oral herpes.

  • Any illness such as flu or cold
  • Extreme temperature changes either hot or freezing weather
  • Stressful events in life
  • Physical or psychological trauma, again causing stress or affecting immune system
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Weakened immune system