Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are a common viral infection that typically appear as small, fluid-filled blisters on or around the lips. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV I or II), which is highly contagious and can be spread through direct contact with the blister or by sharing objects such as towels, razors, or utensils.
The first symptoms of a cold sore usually include tingling or itching sensations around the mouth, followed by the appearance of small, red, fluid-filled blisters. The blisters may burst and form a crust before eventually healing on their own within a week or two. Cold sores can be painful and may cause other symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, and headache.
Once a person is infected with the herpes simplex virus, the virus can remain dormant in the body and can reactivate periodically, causing new cold sore outbreaks. Certain factors, such as stress, illness, hormonal changes, and exposure to sunlight, can trigger cold sore outbreaks.
There is no cure for cold sores, but antiviral medications such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir can help reduce the severity and duration of the outbreaks. Over-the-counter creams and ointments, such as docosanol or benzyl alcohol, may also help relieve symptoms. To prevent the spread of cold sores, it's important to avoid touching the blisters, practice good hand hygiene, and avoid close contact with others when the blisters are present.