Cold Sores

(Fever Blisters; Herpes Labialis; Herpes Stomatitis; Herpes Simplex)


Cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters. They are usually found at the border of the lip.
Herpes Simplex on the Lips
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Cold sores are caused by 2 types of herpes simplex viruses. Cold sores are common. In most cases, people contract the virus as young children.You may get the virus from:
  • Contact with the fluid from a cold sore of another person, or genital herpes sores
  • Contact with the eating utensils, razors, towels, or other personal items of a person with active cold sores
  • Sharing food or drink with a person with active cold sores
  • Contact with the saliva of a person who has the herpes virus even if no sores are present
The first episode of illness with herpes virus can cause a body-wide illness. After that, the virus lies quietly in the skin until it is reactivated. The reactivated virus causes a cold sore to appear.

Risk Factors

Factors that can reactivate the virus and lead to an outbreak of cold sores include:
  • Infection, fever, cold, or other illness
  • Exposure to sun
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Certain drugs
  • Weakened immune system
  • Menstruation
  • Physical injury or trauma
  • Dental or other oral surgery
It is not always clear what triggers a cold sore.


A cold sore occurs most often on the lips, but can occur in the mouth or other areas of the skin. They are small, painful sores that are fluid filled and red-rimmed blisters.You may notice some itching, tingling, or burning the day before a cold sore appears. The sores will dry up with a crust and shallow sore after a few days.

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