Cold Sores (Nongenital Herpes Simplex Infections)

  • Medical Author:

    Sandra Gonzalez Gompf, MD, FACP is a U.S. board-certified Infectious Disease subspecialist. Dr. Gompf received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Miami, and a Medical Degree from the University of South Florida. Dr. Gompf completed residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of South Florida followed by subspecialty fellowship training there in Infectious Diseases under the directorship of Dr. John T. Sinnott, IV.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Cold Sores Slideshow

Cold Sores Treatment

Currently, there are no cures or vaccines for cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Frequent hand washing will help reduce the spread of the virus to other parts of the body or to other people. Also, applying cool, moist compresses to the lesion may decrease pain and keep the lesion from drying and cracking.

Picture of cold sores

Herpes simplex infections (nongenital cold sores) facts

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause infections that affect the mouth, face, genitals, skin, buttocks, and the anal area. It is one of the most common chronic viral infections in humans. The prevalence of HSV-1 (oral herpes) infection is 67% of adults worldwide and is higher than the prevalence of HSV-2 (genital herpes).
  • Of the two herpes simplex viruses (HSV-1 and HSV-2), cold sores are most commonly caused by HSV-1.
  • The virus resides deep in the nerve roots and may reactivate at a later time, causing the same symptoms and signs in the same location.
  • Cold sores usually go away within one to two weeks, but they can be treated with antiviral medications to reduce pain and shorten healing time.

What are herpes simplex infections?

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause infections that affect the mouth, face, genitals, skin, buttocks, and the anal area. This article will concentrate on nongenital herpes. Many people acquire the virus and have no symptoms or signs. For others, painful blisters appear near the area where the virus entered the body. Typically, the blisters heal completely but may reappear at some point in the future. In between attacks, the virus resides deep in the roots of the nerves of the involved area. When herpes simplex lesions appear in their most common location, around the mouth, chin, and upper lip, people often refer to them as "cold sores" or "fever blisters." Oral herpes may cause ulcers, blisters, or sores anywhere inside the mouth, including the gums and the tongue. It may also cause sores inside the nose and around the nostrils. Herpes may also affect the eye.

Pictures of Cold Sores on the Lips (Fever Blisters, HSV-1, or Herpes Simplex Infection Type 1)
Picture of cold sores on the lips (fever blisters, HSV 1, or herpes simplex infection type 1)
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/15/2016

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