Cold sores, also called herpes or fever blisters, are groups of small, fluid-filled blisters. The blisters are most often gathered in patches on the lip and around the mouth. Before an outbreak, you often feel a tingling sensation or stinging pain. Then the blisters appear, and they usually burst, ooze, crust over and disappear after several days to two weeks. If you don’t treat your cold sore, it usually lasts 7-10 days, but can remain for up to two weeks. Although there is no cure for cold sores, you can control the pain, the severity of the outbreak and you can help speed up the healing process.
Cold sores are caused by a virus, the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). There are two types of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The former is responsible for herpes labialis, a herpes located around the mouth, most commonly on the lips. This type of herpes is the one commonly referred to as cold sores or fever blisters, while HSV-2 causes genital herpes. Generally speaking, herpes is a rash of the skin and mucous and is characterized by reddening of the affected area followed by blister formation, which can burst and thus lead to scabs.
Cold sores cannot only be irritating but can also be embarrassing with social, and emotional impact. In extreme cases, it may lead to social isolation. If you suffer from cold sores, you are not alone. About two-thirds of people under the age of 50 years are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), the virus responsible for cold sores.
In Europe, this corresponds to a little bit more than 200 million women (69%) and 187 million men (61%). The infection is mostly asymptomatic but can cause mild symptoms or painful blisters.