Cold Sores: 10 Things To Know About Mouth Blisters Caused By The Herpes Virus

by Ileana Paules-Bronet
Ileana is the Editor of Original Content at LittleThings. She grew up in upstate New York and Oregon and now lives in Queens, NY. Ileana graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in sociology. After graduating, she attended the Columbia Publishing Course in New York City, then worked as in marketing at Oxford University Press. Since transitioning to editorial, she has written for sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Unwritten. She has also worked for local newspapers and magazines in upstate New York. In her free time, you can find Ileana watching Law and Order: SVU, eating ice cream, and spending time with her dog.

In high school, my lips always got really dry and cracked. I have very sensitive lips, and every time it got dry outside, I would have to apply chapstick like it was my job.

Of course, none of this was made any better by my lifestyle as a gymnast. I spent five hours a day in a gym filled with chalk that dried out my skin.

Ever since, I’ve been very conscious of keeping my lips healthy. I never go anywhere without lip balm.

A few years ago, my friend offered me a sip of her drink, but then mentioned that she had a cold sore. I immediately rejected her drink offer, but then I wondered if I’d ever accidentally shared food or drinks with anyone who had a cold sore and forgot to tell me (or didn’t know).

Do you know the facts about cold sores? Find out more about cold sores below!

Photos: Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

1. What Are Cold Sores?

what are cold sores
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Cold sores are small, fluid-filled blisters that form on and around your lips.

They’re typically pretty small, but they can be annoying and uncomfortable.

2. What Causes Cold Sores?

what causes cold sores
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Cold sores are caused by a contagious virus called herpes simplex virus (HSV).”

There are two different types of HSV. The one that causes oral herpes is type 1.

3. What Do Cold Sores Look Like?

cold sores look
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Cold sores look like unsightly, small blisters on the outside of the mouth. They’re usually on or around the lips, and sometimes they are grouped in patches.

cold sore crust

If the blisters break, they may start to ooze or crust over. A scab might form after that.

4. What Do Cold Sores Feel Like?

cold sores feel
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Cold sores have a variety of symptoms. They usually start by itching, burning, or tingling, then a painful bump will appear before the blister erupts.

After the blister forms, it may burst open and feel somewhat raw.

5. Are Cold Sores The Same As Canker Sores?

cold sores canker sores
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Cold sores and canker sores are not the same.

The Mayo Clinic explains, “Canker sores involve only the mucous membrane and aren’t caused by the herpes simplex virus.”

Unlike cold sores, canker sores are not contagious.

6. How Do Cold Sores Spread?

cold sores spread
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

HSV is contagious and can be spread via close contact, like kissing, sharing drinks, etc.

lips cold sores

Cold sores can be contagious even if you aren’t able to see the sores.

7. Are Cold Sores Related To Genital Herpes?

cold sores herpes
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Many people have heard the rumor that cold sores are the same as genital herpes. This is not true.

Genital herpes and cold sores are related, but they’re not the same.

cold sore lip

While cold sores are HSV type 1, genital herpes are HSV type 2. That said, both types of HSV can occur on the mouth and genitals and can be spread by oral sex.

8. Do Cold Sores Leave Scars?

cold sores scars
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

Fortunately, cold sores do not typically leave scars.

In most cases, cold sores go away on their own in a few days or a few weeks.

9. Can You Cure Cold Sores?

cold sores cures
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

There’s no cure for cold sores, but there are a number of treatment options.

Antiviral medications can help cold sores heal faster and may even help prevent sores in people who get them regularly.

10. When Should You See A Doctor?

cold sores doctor
Morgan Swofford for LittleThings

If your cold sores don’t heal within two weeks, or your symptoms are severe, you should set up an appointment with your doctor.

You should also seek care if you have a weakened immune system, if you have irritation in your eyes, or if you have cold sores frequently.

doctor office

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