Herpes simplex virus
Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips oraround the mouth. They're caused by the herpes simplex virusand usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days.
Youmay nothave any symptoms when you first become infected with the herpes simplex virus. An outbreak of cold sores mayhappen some time later.
Cold sores often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Small fluid-filled sores then appear, usually on the edges of your lower lip.
See your GPifa cold sore hasn't healed after 7 to 10 days.
Theherpes simplex virus is responsible for cold sores. There are two strains, known asHSV-1 and HSV-2.
After someone has contracted the virus, it remains inactive (dormant) most of the time.
However, every so often the virus can be activated by certain triggers, resulting in an outbreak of cold sores. These triggers vary from person to person, but can include sunlight,fatigue, an injury to the affected area, and, in women, their Periods .
Some people have frequently recurring cold sores around two or three times a year, while others have one cold sore and never have another. Some people never get cold sores at all because the virus never becomes active.
Cold sores usually clear up by themselves without treatment within 7 to 10 days.
However, antiviral creams are available over the counter from pharmacies without a prescription. If used correctly, these can help ease your symptoms and speed up the healing time.
To be effective, these treatmentsshould be applied as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear when youfeela tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Using an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have much of an effect.
Cold sore patches are also available that contain hydrocolloid gel, which is an effective treatment for skin wounds. The patch is placed over the cold sore while it heals.
Antiviral tablets may be prescribed for severe cases.
People with weak immune systems caused by illness or treatments such as chemotherapy are particularly at risk of complications.
Dehydration sometimes occurs if drinking fluids becomes painful. Young children are particularly at risk of becoming dehydrated.
The herpes simplex virus can also spread to other parts of your body. Examples of when this can occur include:
Left untreated, herpetic keratoconjunctivitis can cause the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of your eye, to become infected, which can eventually lead to blindness.
It's therefore important not to touch your eyes if you have an unhealed cold sore. If you must touch your eyes for example, to remove contact lenses wash your hands thoroughly first.
In very rare cases, encephalitis , a condition where the brain becomes inflamed and swollen, can be caused by the cold sore virus spreading to the brain. It can be treated with intravenous injections of antiviral medications, such asaciclovir.
It's not possible to prevent infection with the herpes simplex virus or prevent outbreaks of cold sores, but you can take steps to minimise the spread of infection.
Cold sores are at their most contagious when they burst (rupture), but remain contagious until they're completely healed. Avoid close contact with others until your cold sore has completely healed and disappeared.
However, there's no need to stay away from work or miss schoolif you or your child have a cold sore.
You can help minimise the risk of the cold sore virus spreading and cold sores recurring by following the advice below:
Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They're caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days
You won't usually have any symptoms when you first develop the herpes simplex virus (a primary infection). An outbreak of cold sores may occur some time later.
Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Occasionally, they can also be caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).