Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

About two-thirds of us have been infected with the HSV-1 virus. It usually comes via well-meaning kisses from relatives or romantic partners. So why do only an unlucky few get cold sores? The answer may be in your genes. Most of the people who get cold sores share genes that may relate to how HSV-1 acts in your body. This could be what causes outbreaks.

Studies have shown that 80% of people with HSV-2 genital herpes experience recurrence, whereas less than 20% of those with HSV-1 genital herpes experience recurrence.

Cold sores are different from canker sores, which form inside the lips or inside the mouth. Canker sores are not caused by a virus, and they are not contagious. Canker sores are shallow gray ulcers with a red outer border. The cause of canker sores is not completely understood. They may be an immune response to bacteria or viruses in the mouth.

Cold sores

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In addition to open sores, HSV-1 is found in high concentrations in saliva. Because of this, oral herpes can be passed through:

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How They Differ

(16) Normann Hochheimer / Doc-Stock

HSV-2 is passed through vaginal sex, anal sex, or oral sex. While uncommon, the virus may also be passed through shared sex toys.

(3) Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty

Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

Herpes Cold Sore On Mouth Stock Photo

When symptoms do appear, they can vary based not only on the location of the outbreak but also on whether HSV-1 or HSV-2 is involved.

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When Should You See a Doctor?

HSV-2 can also be passed from the genitals to the mouth during oral sex, although this is less common.

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Mayo Clinic: “Cold Sore: Symptoms.”

Cold Sores vs. Herpes: What’s the Difference

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(11) Jupiter Images Unlimited

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How Does the Virus Spread?

Cold sores usually appear on your lip. Canker sores affect the inside of your mouth. They don’t involve the herpes virus and aren’t contagious. No one knows what causes them. Cold sores generally signal their arrival with a warning period of red, irritated skin. Blisters form, burst, and then crust over before they heal.

During reactivation, the virus will migrate up the lumbosacral dorsal root ganglia of the lower spine and cause symptoms in a similar pattern as with cold sores:

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Cold Sore Symptoms and Diagnosis

HSV-1 lives in your nerves. It’s pretty quiet most of the time, but you may have triggers that bring it out of hiding and cause cold sores. They can range from sunlight or a fever to stress and getting your period. Some people get cold sores twice a year or less. For others, it’s a monthly ordeal.

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Your Cold Isn’t to Blame

HSV-1 and HSV-2 are incurable infections characterized by periods when the virus is dormant (latent) and periods when the virus is active. They are also characterized by recurrence during which the virus may spontaneously reactivate before being brought under control by the immune system.

Cold sores — you might hear them called fever blisters — are proof that life can be unfair. Some people get them, others don’t. If you get them, don’t worry. There are ways to treat and prevent them.

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