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  • Nov 18, 2018

Cold Sores

Cold Sores

(Alternative Names: Herpes Labialis, Fever Blisters, Non Genital Herpes Simplex)


Cold sores are a blistering viral condition occurring most commonly in  groups on the lips or skin around them, and rarely elsewhere on the body, that heal in about a week undergoing through stages of oozing, crusting, and new skin formation.


More than nine out of every ten people get cold sores at least once in their lifetime. Though generally a mild infection, the cold sores may turn serious in certain conditions in which body’s natural disease fighting capacity is compromised and rarely the infection may spread beyond its original site of infection to distant locations on the self or contacts. The worldwide distribution, recurring  physical discomfort, and potential to transform into life threatening situations coupled with inadequate mass awareness justify bringing relevant knowledge and prevention measures into public domain.


Quick Facts


  •          Cold sores have no relation to the “common cold” except that common cold might trigger an attack due to fever or low body immunity.
  •          Cold sores are an extremely common condition with cases arising in all countries affecting both genders.
  •          Cold sores are caused by Herpes Simplex Virus or HSV. This virus has two variants called HSV-1 and HSV-2. Cold sores are different from canker sores.
  •          Cold sores are caused by HSV-1.
  •         Most cases of cold sores are non symptomatic or without any noticeable manifestations.
  •          The virus is acquired by kissing or through an indirect contact through saliva or shared articles like razors, towels, and utensils used by the patient.
  •         It is a recurrent condition with first attack being more severe than the subsequent episodes. Subsequent attacks often appear at the site of original eruption. There is no permanent cure for cold sores.
  •          It is an infectious condition and the virus can spread to one’s own body areas or to another person.


Features, Self Help, & Preventive Measures


An attack of cold sores develops within few days to three weeks of having come in contact with the source. There may be some discomfort in the form of tingling or burning lasting a few days in the affected area before a visible blistering eruption. The causative virus continues to lodge in the body and gets activated from time to time with conditions favoring its growth. Certain situations facilitate reactivation of virus. Some of these situations are:

·         Fever or flu-like symptoms

·         Low immunity

·         Certain dietary ingredients like spices

·         Menstruation

·         Sun exposure

·         Stress

·         Infection


A clinical examination is generally sufficient to diagnose cold sores but sometimes investigations might be needed to confirm presence of infection or to distinguish between the primary and recurrent infection.


Cold sores virus cannot be eliminated completely from the body but severity of symptoms due to infection can be subdued. Pain relief can be achieved with cold packs, menthol, or other numbing agents. Antivirals are helpful especially if administered within first 48 hours of primary attack.


Prevention of cold sores requires simple measures:

You should wash your hands frequently and avoid touching genitals and other body areas after touching blisters.

You should avoid prolonged sun exposure and use a sunscreen regularly over the patch of skin over the affected site.

You should avoid triggers like:

·         Spicy food

·         Stress

·         Kissing

·         Sharing forks, knives, spoons, glasses, towels, lip balm, or razors, lipstick

·         Indulging in oral sex

·         Rubbing and touching

You should apply cold compresses, have soft food, use a mouthwash frequently, and consume plenty of fluids to facilitate an early recovery from the episode.




You are permitted to share, distribute, print, or reproduce this article for private use with proper citation of the source. The article is a part of our service to fellow human beings as a means of health education and awareness enhancement to minimize dependence on healthcare


Dr Vinay Kumar

Senior Consultant Dermatologist



+91-93 199 299 00



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