Cold sores, sometimes called oral herpes, are clusters of small, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth that are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). They are generally harmless to you, but easily spread. They can be highly visible and make you want to hide your face so if you have a cold sore, keep your chin up and keep reading for tips!
HSV-1, the virus that cause cold sores, is highly contagious, and that makes cold sores very common. If you struggle with cold sores, you’re not alone and don’t have to be embarrassed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 67 percent of the global population under the age of 50 has HSV-1. Herpes simplex virus type 2, which is sexually transmitted and causes genital herpes, appears in about 13 percent of the population.
Once you have the virus, anyone who has HSV-1 or HSV-2 is at risk of developing cold sores. However, most infections are asymptomatic so not everyone infected with the virus will have recurring cold sores. When cold sores do present you need to be cautious to keep from spreading the infection.
Stopping the spread
The virus that causes cold sores is transmitted by direct contact (like kissing) and can also be spread through the sharing of items like utensils, razors, or towels. When you have a cold sore be cautious – avoid direct contact and don’t share personal use items. Make sure you’re washing your hands frequently, and refrain from touching the cold sore, as well as your face and eyes.
Most cases of genital herpes are from sexual transmission of HSV-2, but HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes. It can be spread through an open sore if you have oral sex, so you need to abstain until your sore is healed.
Healing the sore
Cold sores are made up of tiny blisters clustered together. Typically, the blisters break and then crust over to form a scab. You should be avoiding any direct contact (including kissing and oral sex) until a scab is fully formed over the sore.
In many cases a cold sore heals within 14 days without treatment, but topical treatments can help promote healing to speed up the process. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about which over-the-counter treatment would be best for your case. You should make an appointment with your doctor if you feel the sores are severe or recurring very often.
Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet
Cold Sores: Who gets them, and the causes
World Health Organization: Herpes simplex virus