If you have ever had a red sore appear on or near your lips, with or without blisters, that sometimes forms a crust, chances are, you may have had a cold sore. Cold sores are caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), which is highly contagious and is spread by direct contact with the skin and mucous membranes. Infection with HSV can commonly happen during infancy and early childhood simply by putting, shared toys, etc. in the mouth.
After the initial infection heals, the virus becomes a permanent part of the genetic material of the cell. It is because of this that cold sores continue to pop up from time to time. There is no permanent cure. The virus may be reactivated by many factors including stress, common colds, fevers, hormonal fluctuations, sun exposure, immunosuppression, trauma, and temperature extremes.
Many people often report a sensation of pain, burning, or itching in the affected area prior to the actual breakout. Lesions may be red, tender, and from ulcers with small blisters, and sometimes crust over. HSV infection most commonly occurs on or near the lips, but can happen anywhere on the face in the place of infection, or less commonly, on the body. During times of active outbreaks it is recommended to avoid contact of the lesion with others (for example, kissing, touching, etc.) to prevent spreading the virus to others as this is when the virus is most contagious.
People who experience outbreaks very infrequently may not choose to be treated, however there are a few over-the-counter treatments available that may lessen discomfort and assist with healing. If you experience frequent breakouts (once or more per month), you may wish to seek prescription treatment. There are topical antiviral creams available that may provide relief as well as several oral antiviral medications that can provide daily suppressive therapy as well as episodic treatment for the lesions. When used properly, oral antiviral medications can decrease the severity of the outbreak and shorten the duration of one.