Yuck. It’s a Cold Sore!

Photo of person with a cold sore on upper lip. treatments are possible from Chicago Dermatologist Nima Skin Institute

No doubt, you’ve had at least one cold sore at some point. You’re not alone. More than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 have had them, too. But what exactly are cold sores and what can you do about them?

What are cold sores?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small blisters or a group of blisters that usually develop on the lip or around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

As with other herpes viruses, this one stays in the body after the cold sores clear. If the virus reactivates, or wakes up, you may get cold sores again. Generally, they aren’t serious, but they are contagious.

Don’t spread them

Your cold sores can easily be spread to others until they have scabbed over. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests taking the following precautions to avoid infecting others:

  • Don’t kiss people, especially children
  • Avoid other intimate contact
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a weakened immune system, including newborn babies
  • Don’t share personal items like lip balm, towels, or razors
  • Don’t share beverages or food
  • Try not to touch your cold sores
  • If you touch a cold sore or apply medicine to it, wash your hands immediately afterward
  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day

Please note that these precautions are especially important if you are around a child who has eczema or someone who has a weakened immune system. If that person catches the virus, it can be very serious.

Treatments for cold sores

You’ve probably seen lots of ads for over-the-counter medications designed to treat cold sores. For many of my patients, these can be adequate. But if you are prone to cold sore outbreaks or if they are severe, there are other options. Oral and topical prescription antiviral medications have proven to be effective for both preventing and treating cold sore outbreaks. You’ll want to schedule an appointment with us to evaluate which medication would work best for you.

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