Cold Sores or Oral Herpes: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
About Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
Cold Sores or Oral Herpes are small blisters, which are filled with fluid and develop on and around the lips. These lesions are commonly found in clusters and in patches. When the blisters rupture, there is formation of a crust resulting in a sore. Cold sores or Oral Herpes commonly heal within a couple of weeks or so. Cold Sores or Oral Herpes are contagious and are transmitted by close contact, like kissing. Cold Sores or Oral Herpes are at their most contagious when they ooze fluid; however, the virus can also be spread to other people even when there is no blister formation.
The cause of the cold sores is HSV-1 or herpes simplex virus and this virus is closely related to HSV-2 which causes the genital herpes. These two herpes simplex viruses may affect the mouth or the genitals, and can spread through oral sex.
HSV infection does not have any cure. The blisters can recur periodically, especially if the patient has a weak immune system or is under some stress. Treatment for cold sores or oral herpes comprises of antiviral medications, which help speed up the healing process and decrease the frequency of recurrence of cold sores.
Causes of Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
HSV-1 or herpes simplex virus is responsible for causing cold sores and the HSV-2 is commonly responsible for causing genital herpes. However, both of these viruses can cause sores in the genitals, as well as in the facial region. Cold sores or oral herpes are transmitted from close contact from a person who has an active lesion. Sharing razors, utensils, towels, kissing etc. can spread HSV-1. HSV-1 can also spread to the genitals and HSV-2 can also spread to the lips by oral sex.
Cold Sores or Oral Herpes are at their most contagious when they ooze fluid; however, the virus can also be spread to other people even when there is no blister formation.
After the first attack of the herpes infection, the virus remains dormant in the skin's nerve cells and can recur later as an active infection near or at the original infection site. Trigger factors for cold sores or oral herpes include: Fever, stress, menstruation, fatigue and sun exposure.
Risk Factors for Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
Majority of the adults usually test positive for the virus, which causes cold sores or oral herpes; even if they haven't had any symptoms of this infection.
Individuals with weak immune systems are at an increased risk for suffering from complications of this infection. Other medical problems which increase the risk of complications from this virus are:
- Extensive burns.
- Chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
- Drugs given to prevent rejection after organ transplants.
Signs and Symptoms of Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
Many individuals infected with the HSV-1 may never experience any symptoms. However, they can still be contagious even if they do not have any blisters. Children below 5 years age may develop cold sores inside their mouths. These lesions can be mistaken for canker sores. Young children are more prone to spread the virus to other regions of their body, such as around the eyes, fingers etc.
Common Signs And Symptoms Of Cold Sores or Oral Herpes When It Passes Through Different Stages Include:
- Itching or tingling or burning sensation is felt by many people around the lips for a couple of days before the blisters of cold sores appear.
- Small blisters filled with fluid commonly break out along the border of the lips. Blisters can also appear on the cheeks or around the nose.
- Next, the blisters merge and burst, resulting in shallow, open sores which ooze fluid and later on crust over.
Other Symptoms Experienced in Cold Sores or Oral Herpes are:
Serious Symptoms Include:
- Cold sores which do not heal in two weeks.
- If the symptoms persist and become severe.
- Increased frequency of recurrences.
- Irritation in the eyes.
Diagnosis of Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
Physical examination or visual inspection is sufficient for diagnosis of cold sores or oral herpes. For further confirmation of diagnosis, a sample from the lesion is taken for further testing.
Treatment of Cold Sores or Oral Herpes
Cold sores or oral herpes usually do not require any treatment, as they clear up on their own within two weeks. Antiviral drugs, such as penciclovir, acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir, can be prescribed to speed up the healing process of cold sores or oral herpes. These medicines are available as pills to be taken orally or as creams for topical application to the sores. Oral pills are found to be more effective than the topical creams in treating cold sores or oral herpes. If the infection is severe, then the antiviral drugs can be given intravenously. Application of ice or cold water on the blisters may also help in alleviating the symptoms of cold sores or oral herpes.