Cold Sores are very common infections that give people blisters and scabs, usually on the lips.

What do Cold Sores Look Like?

Cold sores are often preceded by a "prodrome" of tingling or burning for 1-2 days.  This is followed by one or several small blisters that then break, leaving an  open wound.  This wound subsequently scabs and heals.  The entire process typically takes 7-10 days.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are caused by infection with the human herpesvirus, most commonly  HSV-1 (herpesvirus-1).    After infection, the virus travels to the nerves near the spinal cord and can periodically travel back to the skin, leading to cold sores.  Some people will only get one cold sore and the virus will never come out again.  Others, will have repeated episodes when the virus travels back to the skin and causes cold sores.

Who Gets Cold Sores?

Anyone can get cold sores.  The virus that causes cold sores is so  ubiquitous that 50-90% of individuals who are between 20 and 40 years of age have been exposed to this virus.   About 40% of adults develop repeated cold sores.

How are Cold Sores Treated?

Your doctor can give you prescription topical or oral medications that can speed up the healing process if you have a cold sore.  These are most effective if started at the first start of the prodrome (symptoms of burning and tingling that typically precede the blistering). The goal of treatment is to control the infection or minimize its impact. There is currently no cure for herpesvirus infections.

Is There Anything Else I Can do to Prevent Outbreaks?

Several triggers for cold sore outbreaks have been identified.  These include stress, sun exposure, menstruation and fever. Minimizing stress may help to prevent some recurrences.  When exposed to sun, consider purchasing a lip balm with a sunscreen to protect your lips.