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Online Cold Sore Treatment and Prevention

What is Cold Sore?

Herpes/Cold Sore is a common disease in the United States caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). The CDC estimates that about 776,000 people yearly in the United States get infected. HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact to cause oral herpes (cold sores), but can also cause genital herpes from oral to genital contact. HSV-2 is almost exclusively transmitted sexually, causing infection in the genital or anal area. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections are lifelong.

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How Cold Sore Infections Spreads

Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is transmitted through direct contact with an infected person's skin or bodily fluids. It can cause cold sores or genital herpes. There is no cure, but antiviral medications can help manage symptoms. Prevention involves practicing safe sex, avoiding contact with open sores, and not sharing personal items with an infected person.

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Preventing Cold Sore Infections

Oral herpes caused by HSV-1 and 2 are particularly contagious during an outbreak but can also be transmitted when the cold sores are not visible. Infected people should avoid oral contact, and not share objects that have had contact with their saliva. They should also abstain from any unprotected sexual activity, especially while experiencing any symptoms or having a fever blister.

Signs and Symptoms of Cold Sore

The signs and symptoms of herpes can vary depending on the location of the infection and the type of herpes virus.

Symptoms of Cold Sores (Oral Herpes, HSV-1):

  • Cold sores or fever blisters on or around the mouth
  • Itching or burning sensations on the lips or mouth
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Sore throat or swollen lymph nodes

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Effective medications recommended for treatment of oral herpes are antiviral medications. These medications can prevent cold sores or shorten outbreaks. Daily suppressive therapy can also reduce the likelihood of transmission to partners.

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Common questions about Cold Sore


Managing stress, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and protecting your lips from extreme weather with lip balm that has sun protection can help reduce the frequency of cold sore outbreaks. Additionally, identify and avoid specific triggers, such as certain foods or conditions that seem to precede an outbreak.

While it's tempting to cover a cold sore with makeup, it's generally advised to avoid doing so until the sore has completely healed. Applying makeup can irritate the sore further and may contribute to the spread of the virus. If covering a cold sore is necessary, use a disposable applicator and avoid sharing any cosmetic products.

It's best to avoid oral activities, including kissing and oral sex, while you have an active cold sore outbreak. The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which causes cold sores, can easily be transmitted to your partner and can cause genital herpes if transmitted during oral sex.

Cold sore outbreaks typically last between 7 to 10 days. Factors that can influence the duration include the timing of treatment initiation, your immune system status, and whether you follow preventive measures during the outbreak. Starting antiviral treatment as soon as symptoms appear can significantly shorten the duration.

Keeping the cold sore area clean is important to prevent a secondary bacterial infection. Gently wash the area once or twice a day with mild soap and water and pat it dry with a clean towel or tissue. Avoid scrubbing the sore, as this can irritate it and lead to further discomfort.

Isolation isn't necessary, but you should avoid close physical contact, especially kissing, while you have an active sore. Also, do not share items that come into contact with your mouth, such as lip balm and eating utensils. Educating those around you about how cold sores spread can also help prevent transmission.

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