Cold sores are a common viral infection of the skin. They usually start with a tingling or itching feeling in the skin before tiny, fluid-filled blisters appear. The blisters burst and form a scab after several days which then dries out and falls off. They commonly appear on and around the lips but can also occur inside and around the nose. Cold sores usually last between 10 and 21 days and don’t leave a scar.
Cold sores are caused by a virus called Herpes Simplex and can spread from person to person by close contact, such as kissing. Cold sores are contagious even if the sores are not yet visible. Once a person is infected the virus remains dormant in the trigeminal nerve of the face until triggered to reawaken by excessive sunlight, fever, or other stresses.
Cold sores will clear up by themselves and although there is no cure for cold sores to prevent them from reoccurring, over the counter treatments are available that can help manage outbreaks. Antiviral creams containing acyclovir (Zorvirax), penciclovir (Fenestil)and ducosanol (Blistex cold sore cream) and patches (Compeed) containing acyclovir are available from pharmacies without a prescription that can help sores heal more quickly. Hand held red light devices are also available that can reduce the length and severity of an outbreak.