- Cold sores are small blisters that appear on the lip or around the mouth.
- Over half of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores.
- The virus stays in the body, even after the cold sores clear, and can reactivate at any time.
Differentiating Cold Sores from Canker Sores
- Cold sores are caused by a virus, while canker sores are not.
- Canker sores occur inside the mouth, while cold sores appear on the lip or around the mouth.
What Triggers Cold Sores?
- Stress, fatigue, or being run-down
- A cold, fever or flu
- Exposure to the sun
- Hormonal changes, such as during menstruation or pregnancy
- Trauma, such as shaving, cuts, dental work, or facial or cosmetic surgery
Treatment and Management
- Burning, itching, or tingling may be the first sign that a cold sore may be coming.
- Apply an over-the-counter antiviral cream or ointment to the cold sore.
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce pain.
- Avoid foods that contain acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits.
- Place a cool, wet towel on the sores for about 5-10 minutes, several times a day.
- Cold sores usually heal in a few days to 2 weeks, but prescription oral antiviral medication may be helpful in shortening the episode if taken within the first 72 hours.
Prevention and Contagion
- Unlike canker sores, cold sores are highly contagious.
- To prevent spreading the virus, avoid intimate contact and sharing objects that may have come in contact with your cold sores.
- Visit aad.org to find a dermatologist in your area.
How long do cold sores usually last?
Cold sores usually heal within a few days to 2 weeks.
What are some common triggers for cold sores?
Stress, fatigue, being run-down, a cold or flu, exposure to the sun, hormonal changes, and trauma such as shaving or dental work can all trigger cold sores.
How can I manage my cold sore symptoms at home?
To manage cold sore symptoms at home, you can apply an over-the-counter antiviral cream or ointment, take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce pain, avoid foods that contain acid, place a cool, wet towel on the sore for 5-10 minutes a few times a day, and avoid intimate contact and sharing personal items with others.
Can cold sores be prevented?
Cold sores can be prevented by avoiding known triggers, and by taking prescription oral antiviral medication if you frequently get cold sores.
Are cold sores contagious?
Yes, cold sores are highly contagious, so it's important to avoid intimate contact and sharing personal items with others when you have a cold sore.
Where can I find a dermatologist to help me with my cold sores?
You can visit aad.org to find a dermatologist in your area who can help you with your cold sores.