A cold sore is a small, painful blister on or around your lips or inside your nose or mouth. Cold sores usually appear when you are sick or stressed. They are also called fever blisters.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Fluid in the blisters contains live virus. The virus can easily spread from one person to another by:
- Sharing food, drink, or eating utensils
- Not washing your hands after touching the sores
Once you are infected, the virus keeps living in your body even after the sores are gone. The virus may cause more cold sores at any time. This is more likely during or after:
- Skin injury, such as a scrape or burn
- Too much exposure to the sun
- Physical illness, such as a cold or flu
- Dental treatment
- Emotional stress
- Hormone changes caused by pregnancy or a woman’s menstrual cycle
About 24 hours before you can see blisters, you may feel numbness, tingling, itching, or burning around your lips, nose, or mouth. Then a small cluster of tiny blisters appears on or around your lips or inside your nose or mouth. The blisters may be painful. Over the next few days, the blisters break and fluid drains out. This fluid is very contagious. As the blisters dry, they become sores that are covered with a yellowish dried crust and they are less painful.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Fluid from the blisters may be tested in the lab to check for virus.
A nonprescription antiviral medicine called docosanol (Abreva) may lessen symptoms. It may also help the sores heal more quickly. Put the medicine on the area with blisters according to the directions on the medicine package. Many other nonprescription medicines can make the sores less painful, but they don’t help the sores heal.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral antiviral medicine. The medicine does not get rid of the virus, but it can decrease the number of days you have symptoms and help blisters dry up more quickly. Taking the medicine when you first start having symptoms may help prevent blisters.
The blisters usually last 7 to 10 days. They should be considered contagious as long as you have any drainage from the blisters. They may return often (for example, several times a year) or rarely, such as once every few years.
To help relieve pain:
- Take a nonprescription pain medicine.
- Put ice on the blisters.
If you have cold sores often, your provider may tell you to take antiviral medicine daily to try to help prevent cold sores. Or your provider may prescribe an antiviral medicine for you to take when you know you are going to be exposed to something that causes you to have cold sores, like a lot of sun or stress. Take your medicine as directed by your healthcare provider.
Use a lip balm containing sunscreen whenever your lips are exposed to the sun. Avoid being out in the sun too much.
To keep from spreading the virus to other parts of your body:
- Wash your hands well after you touch any part of your body where there is tingling, itching, burning, or blisters. Itâ€™s especially important to do this after you put medicine on the sores or when the blisters are draining.
- Donâ€™t touch your eyes or genitals after you touch the area around the cold sore.
To keep from spreading the virus to other people:
- Avoid kissing or touching others with your mouth when you have a cold sore.
- Avoid oral sex when you have a cold sore. The virus could spread to your partner’s genitals.
- The virus can spread even when you don’t have symptoms. Itâ€™s more likely to cause infection in another person if they have a cut, rash, or sore that lets the virus enter their skin during, for example, kissing. Because the virus can spread when you donâ€™t have symptoms, you may want to use latex or polyurethane condoms during foreplay and every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Because condoms donâ€™t cover all areas of contact, the virus could still spread to your partner. This can be especially concerning if you are starting a new relationship. Discuss any questions you may have about this with your healthcare provider.
- Avoid sharing soaps, washcloths, cosmetics (especially lip balm or lipstick), and utensils for eating or drinking.
To keep from getting the cold sore virus from someone else:
- If you are caring for someone with the herpes virus, donâ€™t touch the sores directly. Use gloves or gauze to apply medicine.
- Avoid kissing or touching another personâ€™s cold sore with any part of your body.
- Avoid sharing soap, towels, cosmetics, food, or drink with someone who has cold sores.
Other Internal Support for Treating and Preventing Fever Blisters
- Consider a L-lysine supplement and reduce arginine: There is evidence that a diet higher in lysine and lower in arginine, is also helpful for reducing fever blisters. Both are amino acids and beneficial to the body, but a diet high in arginine and low in lysine may cause frequent fever blister outbreaks. For a good chart on ratios of these amino acids in foods, see this article. Nuts and seeds are at the top of the list. I am thinking of limiting nuts and seeds to see if my outbreaks lessen.
- Recognize your triggers and try to avoid them: Sunburns, chapped lips, trauma to the area, hormonal changes, stress, or a weakened immune system can all be triggers. If you keep track of your triggers, you may have greater success avoiding them altogether.
- Reducing stress: Take long walks, get some fresh air, do some light exercise, take vacations, play, sleep, enjoy life. Stress can weaken your immune system and cause a host of problems, one of which is fever blisters. Find some time to unwind and you may see a decrease in the frequency of your outbreaks.
Probiotic rich foods and supplements are my favorite way to boost my family’s immune systems. Kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables are my go-to ways to get our daily intake of probiotics.Cod Liver Oil is another one of my favorite immune system boosters due to its high levels of fat soluble vitamins A, D, and K.Bone broth: Here it is again, my beloved bone broth. lol Yes it works to help strengthen the gut and immune system.
Do you have any remedies to speed healing time of fever blisters? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Medical Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this should not be taken as medical advice. I am simply sharing my own experience. Please consult a medical professional.