Why do people get cold sores?


Cold sores also known as fever blisters are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). In most cases the virus is passed on in early childhood – for example, when a family member or friend kisses a child with a cold sore which can last for a lifetime.

Herpes simplex viruses, usually referred to as herpes, are divided into two types: oral herpes type 1 and genital herpes type 2. Most frequently, herpes type 1 causes sores around the mouth and lips, also referred to as fever blisters or cold sores.

Hippocrates was the first to identify sores that might have been caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV), but the clinical symptoms produced by this virus have only recently been detailed in greater detail. The majority of important discoveries in HSV infection and therapy have occurred since the beginning of the 20th century.

The purpose of this article is to provide an in-depth overview of cold sores, including information on their causes, symptoms, treatment options like the best ointments and creams for cold sores, and preventative methods. This article intends to educate readers and explain myths and misconceptions regarding cold sores by going into the specifics of this common viral illness, therefore minimizing the bad impression connected with them.

About Cold Sores

Cold sores, which are tiny blisters, can develop on the lips or in the mouth. They are brought on by the herpes simplex virus and often go away on their own in 7 to 10 days.

When you first develop the herpes simplex virus, you may not show any symptoms. Some time later, there may be a cold sore outbreak.

A cold sore is frequently identified by the tingling, stinging, or burning sensation that surrounds your mouth. Then, tiny, fluid-filled ulcers start to form, usually along the lower lip’s edges.

Learn more about cold sore signs and symptoms.

When to Get Professional Advice

Cold sores can be treated by a pharmacist and are typically not serious. If necessary, your pharmacist may advise you to get in touch with your GP office.

It’s likely that you’ll recognize cold sores if you’ve already experienced breakouts.

Only if you’re not sure whether it’s a cold sore or if it’s serious and extending beyond the lip should you see your pharmacist. If a cold sore hasn’t healed after 7 to 10 days, consult your pharmacist.

Herpes labialis

What Causes Cold Sores?

The herpes simplex virus strain that frequently results in cold sores is known as HSV-1.

Rarely, the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) can also produce cold sores. This might happen after engaging in oral intercourse with a person who has genital herpes.

Risk Factors

Cold sores are a possibility for almost everyone. Most adults have the virus that causes cold sores, even if they have never had symptoms.

If you have a compromised immune system as a result of illnesses or medications like those listed below:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Cancer chemotherapy
  • Anti-rejection medicine for organ transplant

Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes simplex, also known as the “cold sore virus,” is extremely contagious and spreads quickly through intimate contact. The majority of the time after a person contracts the virus, it is dormant (inactive).

However, occasionally the virus might be brought on by specific stimuli, leading to a cold sore outbreak. These factors can include sunlight, exhaustion, an injury to the affected area, and, in women, their period. These factors differ from person to person.

Some people experience cold sores twice or three times a year on average, while others only experience one cold sore in their lifetime. Some individuals never develop cold sores because the virus never activates.

Treating Cold Sores

Within 7 to 10 days, cold sores typically heal on their own without medical intervention.

However, antiviral lotions are available over the counter in pharmacies without a prescription. These can lessen your symptoms and hasten the healing process if utilized properly.

These remedies must be used as soon as you notice the first symptoms of a cold sore, which are tingling, itching, or burning around your lips. After this initial phase, it’s unlikely that applying an antiviral cream will have much of an impact.

There are also cold sore patches on the market that include a hydrocolloid gel, a potent skin wound treatment. The cold sore is covered by the patch while it heals.

Herpes labialis - oprszcka wargowa

Complications of Cold Sores

Although cold sores are typically not serious, they can occasionally become complicated. People who have weak immune systems as a result of sickness or medical procedures like chemotherapy are especially vulnerable to problems.

If drinking water becomes uncomfortable, dehydration can occasionally result. Dehydration is a significant concern for young children.

Additionally, the herpes simplex virus can spread to other internally areas. This can happen in situations like:

  • Skin infection – If the virus gets into touch with skin that is broken, such as a cut or scrape, or has a skin disease like eczema, they frequently happen.
  • Herpetic whitlow (whitlow finger) – This results in the development of uncomfortable blisters and ulcers on your fingertips.
  • Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis – This results in swelling, discomfort, and inflammation around your eyes, as well as ulcers appearing on your eyelids.

Herpetic keratoconjunctivitis can result in an infection of the cornea, the clear layer at the front of your eye, which can ultimately result in blindness.

Therefore, if you have a cold sore that hasn’t healed, it’s crucial to avoid touching your eyes. If you must touch your eyes, such as to take out your contact lenses, properly wash your hands first.

Rarely, the cold sore virus can travel to the brain and result in encephalitis, a disorder in which the brain swells and becomes inflamed. Treatment options include intravenous injections of antiviral drugs such aciclovir.

Cold sore

Preventing Infection

Herpes simplex virus infection and cold sore breakouts cannot be prevented, but you can take precautions to lessen the spread of the infection.

Cold sores are most contagious when they develop, although they are still contagious after they have fully healed. As soon as your cold sore starts to heal, stay away from people up close.

However, if you or your child has a cold sore, there’s no need to skip work or class.

By considering the following instructions, you can reduce the likelihood of the cold sore virus spreading and cold sores returning:

  • When applying cold sore cream, pat it on lightly rather than rubbing it in as this might further injure your skin. Otherwise, avoid touching cold sores.
  • Always wash your hands before using cold sore cream, after using it, and after touching the area.
  • Avoid sharing cold sore creams or medications with others as doing so could spread the infection.
  • Don’t share anything that comes in contact with the affected area, such utensils or lipstick.
  • As soon as your cold sores have totally healed, refrain from kissing and oral sex.
  • Be extra cautious around young children, expectant women, and individuals who have compromised immune systems, such as those who are HIV positive or receiving chemotherapy.
  • If you are aware of the triggers for your cold sores, attempt to avoid them. For instance, lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher can help prevent cold sores from being brought on by bright sunlight.



In conclusion, cold sores, which are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), can occur from both HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections. HSV-1 is frequently associated with oral cold sores, but HSV-2 is typically linked to genital herpes. Cold sore outbreaks can occur in any case when the virus becomes active, which can happen due to stress, stimulation, or a weakened immune system.