Cold sores are small, painful sores or blisters which are typically filled with fluid. These may appear on the mouth, lips and even nose. These cold sores are caused by a virus and typically only stay for a few days. Cold sores may however recur because unlike ordinary viral infections, this particular virus does not completely leave the body even after the sore disappears.
Causes for Cold Sores
The virus responsible for cold sore is known as HSV or herpes simplex virus. HSV comes in two varieties; Type 1 and Type 2. The one specific to cold sores is Type 1.
Cold sores are contagious and typically spread through close contact with an infected person such as kissing. You may not always notice that the other person has the virus and their skin may appear normal. This is because the virus continues to be active even while the skin is shedding it. The virus may also be spread via saliva.
Active sores that look like blisters are very contagious. The risk of spreading however goes once the blister has dried and crusted over. The sore should heal in a few days. It is not always clear why the cold sore may return once it has healed.
Most people erroneously believe that you can get cold sores from sharing washcloths, towels and other contaminated surfaces. The risk of spread is minute in this case.
Other conditions that may trigger cold sores include;
- Flu, fever or cold
- Hormonal changes such as during adolescence and menstruation
- Changes in the immune system
- Skin trauma
What Happens When You Are Infected
Once you are infected with the virus, penetrates the nerve cells. It then travels along the nerve until it reaches the ganglion. The ganglion is basically a collection of nerve cells. The virus may dormant at this stage and you might not show any symptoms. Once active, the virus begins to multiply again and continues to travel through the nerve and finally to the skin. This is when the blisters on the lips appear.
Treatment for Cold Sores
Cold sores typically resolve naturally in a few days. The symptoms can however be severe for people who are infected for the first time. Such an attack may include bleeding gums, multiple painful sores, swollen glands and fever. You may seek medical attention if you experience severe symptoms although these typically resolve in a week or two.
It is imperative that you visit a doctor as soon as possible if you have a weak immune system such as is the case with chemotherapy patients.