Cold Sores

General Facts:

  • Caused by the Herpes simplex I virus
  • The virus remains dormant in the body and can cause recurring outbreaks in the future
  • Most frequently occur on the lips and around the border of the lips
  • May also occur occasionally on the cheek, chin, nose or inside the mouth.
  • Commonly recurs at the same location on the skin
  • May last from 10 to 14 days
  • They can be transmitted through contact

Triggers of Cold Sores:

  • Emotional and physical stress which may lower the immune system
  • Colds or other upper respiratory tract infections
  • Environmental stresses: the sun (including tanning beds) and wind exposure
  • Hormone changes eg. during menstruation
  • local trauma or injury to the skin around the lips

Symptoms prior to an outbreak:

  • fatigue the day before the recurrence of the cold sore
  • a tingling, numbness, or just a feeling of discomfort at the site of the outbreak before it arrives.
  • a subtle tenderness or a sense of localized fullness or swelling in the skin at the location the outbreak will occur

Life Cycle of Cold Sores:

  1. The inflammation stage - the skin may appear normal but there may be localized redness and swelling seen in response to the virus multiplying in the skin cells
  2. The area is then very tender and small blisters appear to join together at the site of redness or inflammation. Some of the blisters may look like small red bumps.
  3. The blisters break open and a moist sore can appear, this stage is the most painful
  4. A scab forms over the sore which usually dry and eventually fall off. The cold sore is infectious until the scab falls off. It is important to keep the scab and sore clean because bacteria can get under that scab and cause infections.
  5. The area may be slightly red for a couple of weeks as the skin heals.