Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

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.

They often shorten the time it takes a cold sore to heal. But they work best if you put them on at the very first sign of an outbreak. Docosanol cream is available over the counter. Acyclovir (Zovirax) cream and penciclovir (Denavir) cream are available by prescription.

While the first outbreak can last up to 2 weeks, the ones after that may not be longer than a week. There’s no cure for cold sores, but some over-the-counter creams and gels can ease symptoms like burning and pain. You can also try hot or cold compresses.

Cold Sore Stages (with Pictures)

Cold sore

Merriam Webster: “Mucous Membrane.”

(16) Normann Hochheimer / Doc-Stock

Mayo Clinic: “Cold Sore: Symptoms.”

Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

Stages of a Cold Sore Outbreak on Lips, Nose, and Face

They can lower the amount of healing time when you take them at the first sign of a cold sore — like tingly, red, or itchy skin. You’ll start acyclovir before cold sores fully flare and take it five times a day for 5 days, or you can take valacyclovir (Valtrex) at the first sign of a cold sore and then 12 hours later. Famciclovir (Famvir) can be given as a single dose of medicine. So can acyclovir buccal (Sitavig), but instead of swallowing it you place against your gums and it releases the medicine as it dissolves.

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When Are You Contagious?

Your eyes: This is called ocular herpes, and it most often affects the cornea. It’s the leading infectious cause of corneal blindness in the U.S., so get treatment as soon as possible. Herpetic whitlow is a painful condition that affects your fingers. Kids often get it when they have a cold sore and suck their fingers or thumb.

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.

Mouth ulcers

Cold Sore Healing Stages With Pictures | Zovirax AU

What about a cold sore that isn’t on your lip? They aren’t as common, but they can pop up anywhere on your face, like your cheek, chin, or nose. Most people’s cold sores reappear in the same area each time.

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How Does the Virus Spread?

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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.

Mouth ulcers

Cold Sore Blister Stage

Yes, but it’s rare. It can happen if you touch a cold sore, then touch an area of broken skin or a mucous membrane (that’s the moist, protective lining found in places where your body opens to the outside — mouth, nose, genitals). That can lead to a herpes skin infection. To prevent this, wash your hands and don’t touch the cold sore.

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Why Doesn’t Everyone Get Them?

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From the time your skin turns itchy or red, the virus is likely present and you can spread it. You’re most contagious when blisters show up and just after they burst. Once your skin is completely healed and looks normal again, you can’t spread it that way. But you can still pass the virus through your saliva at any time, even when you don’t have a cold sore.

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