Cold sores, “Herpes labialis”, is a herpes simplex virus, which is an infection most common on the lips. The first time you have an outbreak it can be accompanied by a fever, sore throat or enlarged lymph nodes, as well as sores inside of mouth. Cold Sores are also called fever blisters. These blisters can be painful but are generally not serious, unless you have AIDS, or a weak immune system. The symptoms are usually most severe the first time you get a cold sore, but after that your body develops antibodies and only about 40% of the U.S. Adult population will continue to get them repeatedly. There are usually no symptoms until the cold sores appear and typically resolve within two weeks. There are two types of herpes simplex virus that can cause cold sores: HSV type 1 and HSV type 2. Cold sores are usually caused by HSV type 1 and can be caught when you come in contact with people who are carrying the virus.
The virus typically spreads easily between people by non-direct sexual contact; such as kissing, sharing drinks, utensils, towels, lip balm, razors, or having oral sex. Other things that can trigger out breaks are; eating certain foods, sunlight, psychological stress, fever, colds, allergies, sunburns, and menstruation. Be sure to protect yourself, and other people if infected, by being aware of all the above ways you can spread the herpes simplex virus. You can decrease risk of spreading infection by trying to avoid touching active outbreak sites, and washing hands frequently during outbreak. Additionally, it’s a good idea to change your toothbrush and lip balm after an outbreak. If you are a parent and get cold sores be sure to try and protect your kids and other children, by being aware and not sharing things with them during an outbreak.
Typical Stages of a Cold Sore:
Stage 1: (Day 1) - Symptoms typically begin with a tingling (itching) of the skin around the infected site. This stage can last for a few days or hours before the actual cold sore makes an appearance, but is the best time to start treatment.
Stage 2: (Day 2-3)-This is when you will notice a small, hard, inflamed papule; it may be sensitive to touch and is usually itchy. These fluid filled blisters form on the border of your lip usually, and can also occur on the nose, chin and cheeks.
Stage 3: (Day 4) – This is generally the most painful stage and it’s also the most contagious. At this stage one usually has one big open weeping ulcer and fluid is slowly being discharged from blood vessels and inflamed tissues.
Stage 4: (Day 5-8) – This is when the cold sore starts to get a golden/ honey crusted look. The healing process is starting, but you are still contagious and it could still be painful to touch.
Stage 5: (Day 9-14) – This is the healing stage; new skin is forming under the scab as the virus is retreating and becoming latent. As it heals you may have a reddish area that will linger, once all the infected cells are gone it will go away.
I would encourage those who are susceptible to outbreaks to stock up on toothbrushes, get rid of all your old chapsticks that are in your coat pockets and get new ones. If you are around children and have a cold sore make sure you are not kissing them, or sharing anything that comes in contact with your mouth. Also, be sure to contact your dental office prior to your visit if experiencing an active outbreak.