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5 Most Common Questions About Cold Sores

Cold sores inflict physical discomfort as well as insecurity, anxiety, and self-consciousness. They are ugly, painful, and extremely common. Approximately 90 percent of the US population has been exposed to cold-sore causing viruses by age 50, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The National Institutes of Health estimates that half of the population has been exposed by the time they reach their 20s.

1. What causes cold sores?

The herpes simplex virus is responsible for cold sores. This virus comes in to forms—type 1 and type 2—according to the NIH. Type 1 is responsible for cold sores. Those exposed to it may or may not show symptoms. Some who react with cold sores may only experience them once. For others, they can recur throughout life.

Cold sore outbreaks may occur for various reasons. The American Academy of General Dentistry lists the following as common triggers:

  • Cold, flu and other illness
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstruation
  • Physical stress or fatigue
  • Dental treatment
  • Immune-system deficiency
  • Sunlight
  • Food allergies

2. Do cold sores only appear around the mouth?

No. While many people get cold sores near the corners of the mouth, they may also appear on the lips, chin, cheeks, nostrils, gums, and roof of the mouth.

3. How long do cold sores last?

It typically takes about two weeks for a cold sore to run its course—click here to read about the stages of a cold sore. They are not typically dangerous and can be treated at home, but there are some circumstances that may require medical attention. The Columbia University College of Dental Medicine warns that they can cause illness in people with weakened immune systems and lists the following as reasons to call your health care provider or dentist:

  • Persisting sores
  • Sores that make it hard to talk or swallow
  • Fever
  • A second outbreak of blisters

4. Can cold sores be prevented?

Cold sores are highly contagious, and so is the virus that causes them. Even babies can contract it. The Mayo Clinic lists the following as ways to prevent spreading sores to other people and other parts of your body:

  • Avoid skin contact with others while blisters are present
  • Be careful about touching other parts of your body, such as the eyes and genetial area
  • Avoid sharing items such as lip balm, towels and utensils
  • Keep your hands clean

5. What is the best way to treat cold sores?

There is no cure for the herpes simplex virus, which means there is no cure for cold sores. They can, however, be treated to minimize pain and fight infection. Treatments for mild cold sores, which are the most frequent kind, may include over-the-counter numbing agents, aloe, and ice. More severe or recurring cold sores may require a prescription antiviral medication.

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