A common virus called herpes simplex causes cold sores. They can spread from person to person through close contacts, such as kissing. The sores are contagious even when they’re not visible.
Cold sores can be managed but once the sores have healed, the virus remains dormant in the body. This means that new sores can appear at any time when the virus reactivates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Your doctor will probably be able to tell if you have a cold sore by looking at the affected area. He or she may also swab the cold sore to test the fluid for the herpes simplex virus.
If you’ve had one before, you’ll likely recognize the symptoms: a tingling sensation followed by redness, swelling and blisters on or around your lips. You can visit your doctor for a diagnosis, although it is not always necessary to go to the doctor if you have a cold sore.
Although it may take a while to get rid of a cold sore, some medicines can shorten the healing time and make the symptoms less painful. Cold sore treatments include:
- Over-the-counter medications: You can buy without a prescription creams or ointments that you apply directly to the cold sore. If you start using these creams when you first notice tingling or itching — before the cold sore forms — you may be able to prevent the cold sore from appearing.
- Oral antiviral medicine: Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication that you take orally (by mouth).
- Intravenous (IV) antiviral medicine: If other medications aren’t working, your doctor may need to prescribe an antiviral medication that will be administered through an IV. In this case, your doctor will monitor you closely throughout treatment.