If you have a cold sore – small blisters on the lip or around the mouth – you’re not alone.
More than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores.
This virus stays in the body, even after the cold sores clear.
If the virus reactivates, or wakes up, you will get cold sores.
Cold sores are different from canker sores, which are not caused by a virus and occur
inside of your mouth.
Many things can trigger cold sores, including:
Stress, fatigue, or being run-down
A cold, fever or flu
Exposure to the sun
Hormonal changes, such as during menstruation or pregnancy
Or, trauma, such as shaving, cuts, dental work; or facial or cosmetic surgery
Cold sores may appear just once in a person’s lifetime or return again and again.
Although most cold sores heal on their own, there are things you can do to help
manage your symptoms.
Follow these tips from dermatologists for treating cold sores at home.
Burning, itching, or tingling may be the first sign that a cold sore may be coming.
When cold sores appear, apply an over-the-counter antiviral cream or ointment.
Although not always effective, this may help slow the reproduction of the virus and relieve
You can also take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce pain.
While you have a cold sore, avoid foods that contain acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits.
These could irritate the skin and add to the pain.
Place a cool, wet towel on the sores for about 5-10 minutes.
Do this a few times daily to help reduce the redness and irritation.
Cold sores usually heal in a few days to 2 weeks.
However, prescription oral antiviral medication may be helpful in shortening the episode if
taken within the first 72 hours.
This medication may also be used for prevention if you get cold sores frequently.
Unlike canker sores, cold sores are highly contagious.
If you have a cold sore, avoid intimate contact – such as kissing – and sharing cups,
towels, razors, toothbrushes and any other objects that may have come in contact with
your cold sores.
This will help prevent the cold sores from spreading to another person.
To find a dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org.