Signs and symptoms vary, depending on whether this is your first outbreak or a recurrence. They can last several days, and the blisters can take two to four weeks to heal completely. Recurrences typically appear at the same spot each time and tend to be less severe than the first outbreak.
A cold sore usually passes through several stages:
Cold sores are often grouped together in patches. After the blisters break, a crust forms over the resulting sore. Cold sores usually heal in two to four weeks without leaving a scar.
Cold sores spread from person to person by close contact, such as kissing. They’re caused by a herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) closely related to the one that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). Both of these viruses can affect your mouth or genitals and can be spread by oral sex. Cold sores are contagious even if you don’t see the sores. There’s no cure for HSV infection, and the blisters may return. Antiviral medications can help cold sores heal more quickly and may reduce how often they return.
Children under 5 years old may have cold sores inside their mouths and the lesions are commonly mistaken for canker sores. Canker sores involve only the mucous membrane and aren’t caused by the herpes simplex virus.
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication for you to take on a regular basis, if you develop cold sores frequently or if you’re at high risk of serious complications. If sunlight seems to trigger your recurrences, apply sunblock to the spot where the cold sore tends to erupt.
To help avoid spreading cold sores to other people or to other parts of your body, you might try some of the following precautions:
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