Painful Mouth Sores Part II: Cold Sores

By July 27, 2015 Knowledge Center

By Vishant Nath DMD, Pediatric Dentist

The last article addressed the topic of canker sores. We now move on to cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters.

Cold sores are groups of small blisters that form on the lips or around the mouth. The blisters contain a clear fluid. They may take anywhere from several days to two weeks to heal on their own. They can be quite painful, especially if they break open and scab over.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) causes cold sores. Once a person has HSV-1, it remains in their system for the rest of their life. The virus can lie dormant for long periods of time and occasionally become active, causing a cold sore to form.

HSV-1 is extremely contagious. It is spread by the transfer of the fluid inside the blister. This most commonly occurs by kissing someone who has a cold sore, or sharing cups or eating utensils with someone who has a cold sore. It can even be spread by someone who has HSV-1 in his or her saliva, but does not have an active cold sore infection.

If you have HSV-1, it’s very important to become sensitive to the warning signals of a cold sore flare up. The area where the blisters will form will start to tingle before the blisters occur. Once you notice this tingling here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Especially if you have children, be VERY careful to avoid kissing them or sharing any food, drink, or eating utensils with them until after the blisters have fully and completely healed. Wash your hands frequently during the outbreak.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, unless you wash your hands, as the virus can be spread to your eyes also, causing ocular herpes. This is a potentially serious eye infection.

There are quite a few over the counter medications targeting cold sore relief that are available. None will prevent the blisters from forming, however they can provide relief from the pain via numbing or reduce the length of time it takes for the blisters to heal.

Certain situations seem to trigger HSV-1 to become active. These include colds and the flu, lack of proper diet and exercise, lack of sleep and exposure to the sun without SPF protection.

For additional information and advice always consult your dentist or physician.

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