Understanding Cold Sores: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
A cold sore, also known as oral herpes or a fever blister, is an itchy, painful blister that usually appears on your lip or around your mouth. Cold sore blisters typically go away on their own within a couple of weeks.v A cold sore is sometimes confused with a canker sore, but it’s easy to tell the difference. A canker sore is always inside your mouth and doesn’t have the tingling, itching, or burning sensation that precedes a cold sore.
What Causes Cold Sores?
The herpes simplex virus – known as HSV-1 and HSV-2 – is the sole cause of cold sores. However, most cases are due to HSV-1, which is far more common, affecting around half of all American adults,compared to roughly 1 in 8 for HSV-2 variant.i
Once you’ve caught the virus, it lies dormant in a nerve sheath until something triggers it into becoming active. Cold sore triggers may vary between people, but common ones include:
- UV light from the sun or sunbeds
- Injury to the area
- Hormonal change
The Best Cold Sores Treatment
Although the virus isn’t curable, treatment can significantly shorten the time your cold sore lasts. Abreva® Cream works by blocking the spread of the virus to healthy skin cells.* In a clinical study, it could clear up cold sores in just 2½ days* when applied at the first sign of symptoms – a significant improvement on the usual 8–10 days without treatment. For best results, apply Abreva® Cream five times a day, starting with the first tingle.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about cold sores.
*Based on laboratory studies.
What Are the Stages of a Cold Sore?
- There are five distinct stages of a cold sore:v
- A tingling, itching, or burning sensation that acts as a warning to apply Abreva® Cream.
- A group of small, fluid-filled, painful blisters appears, usually on or around your lips or mouth. The surrounding area may be red and swollen.
- The blisters bursts, oozing fluid.
- A scab forms as the blisters dry out.
- The scab gradually flakes off.
How Can I Ease the Pain of a Cold Sore?
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are effective at easing the swelling of cold sores. Local anesthetic creams, such as lidocaine or benzocaine, temporarily block nerve signals in your skin, numbing pain and stopping itching and irritation.
Alternatively, reduce inflammation, swelling, pain, and itching by holding an icepack covered with a thin cloth or a cold, wet washcloth to the area for up to 20 minutes.ii
Do Natural Remedies Work?
There’s no scientific evidence that natural remedies such as lysine, lemon juice, acetone or witch hazel are effective against cold sores. Some, such as ice, may provide short-term relief, but won’t treat a cold sore. Opt instead for a treatment supported by scientific evidence such as Abreva® Cream. It contains the only non-prescription ingredient approved by the FDA to shorten the duration of a cold sore.vi
When Are Cold Sores Contagious?
Cold sores are contagious from the first moment you feel the characteristic tingle, itch, or burn to the time the sore has completely disappeared. During this time, the virus can spread, even when there isn't a blister. The most contagious time, however, is when the blisters burst.vii
How Are Cold Sores Spread?