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What are cold sores and how do I know if I have them?

Last updated on September 30, 2020

Cold sores are also known as oral herpes. They’re usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), but sometimes caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Cold sores can be spread through person-to-person contact, such as kissing or oral sex.

Cold sores usually pass through a couple stages.

  • First, many people experience a tingling and itchy feeling around the lips, beginning about 12-24 hours before the cold sore develops. Then, small fluid-filled blisters appear along the border of the lips or can appear around the nose, cheeks, or inside of the mouth.
  • Over 2-3 days some of the blisters may rupture and leave open sores that ooze fluid that is clear or slightly yellow.
  • About 4-5 days after the cold sore appears, it crusts and scabs over.
  • Finally, the scab then falls off, revealing skin that may be a little more pink or reddish than usual for a few days. It usually takes 1-2 weeks for the cold sore to completely heal.

Usually the first time someone has an outbreak, it is worse than future outbreaks. They may experience flu-like symptoms like a fever, body aches, or swollen glands, in addition to the blisters.

People can experience repeated outbreaks of cold sores. So, if you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend that you see your doctor who can examine for oral herpes.

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