Cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters that usually occur on the lips, gums, or roof of the mouth. They’re caused by the herpes simplex virus and are contagious. There may be pain or tingling one to two days before the cold sores appear.

What Causes Cold Sores?

Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes (say: hur-peez). Herpes is one of the most common viral infections in the world. The medical name for the specific virus that causes cold sores is herpes simplex.

It is important to be aware of what causes cold sores to recur to be able to control their outbreak. What causes cold sores’ recurrence is the presence of the virus in the nerves of an individual.

Cold sores actually clear up in an average of two weeks all by themselves without any use of medication. Some dermatologists may prescribe medicines such as skin creams and ointments to help with the healing and to ease the pain and discomfort.

Common signs and symptoms are:

  • Fever, muscle soreness, tiredness, or swollen lymph nodes.
  • Grouped blisters on a red base, usually located on lips or facial area.

Cold sores appear when HSV-1 is reactivated later in life. They may occur after a period of illness or stress, poor nutrition or sunlight exposure, or for no known reason.

Dental procedures that stretch the lip may occasionally trigger the virus.

Making the Diagnosis

Cold sores have clear and obvious symptoms, so there’s no need for a battery of tests. In any case, they’re rarely a matter for the doctor.

However, you should see a doctor about any redness and pain in the eye, any fever over 100°F (38°C), or if there is thick yellow-white fluid coming from the blisters. This may be a sign of bacteria in the wound.

Your doctor can check the fluid from the blisters for the presence of bacteria.

Treatment and Prevention

There is no known cure for cold sores. Most people don’t need treatment, since they go away on their own, but some medications may be helpful. There are several cold sore remedies that are available without a prescription.

These products are usually liquids, ointments, gels, or balms. They can contain lip moisturizers and protectants or anesthetics that help to reduce the pain of cold sores and prevent cracking and excessive drying of the lips.

Your diet plays such a big role in your health, not just for cold sore prevention, but in every area of your health. Take care of your body by eating a good diet and taking a daily multi vitamin.

Look for vitamins that have Lysine in them as this has been shown to help with cold sore symptoms. Try to keep the fast food to a minimum.

With an antiviral cream, apply it as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on since the sooner you start treatment the more likely you are to prevent the cold sore developing further.

Rub the antiviral cream onto the cold sore as often as instructed by the directions. Some anti-virals need to be applied 5 times a day and some as often as every one to two hours.


Antiviral medications are your best bet, as they can speed the healing process and reduce the frequency of outbreaks. Valtrex, a medication that suppresses the herpes virus, can be taken either as a daily suppressive therapy to prevent outbreaks or to speed healing.

When used as a daily suppressive treatment it helps reduce shedding, which significantly lowers the risk of transmission to partners and the occurrence of outbreaks.