- Cold Sores Slideshow
- Adult Skin Problems Slideshow
- Take the Skin Conditions Quiz
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Describe Your Experience
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Treatments
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Symptoms and Signs
- Patient Comments: Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Diagnosis
- Herpes simplex infections (nongenital cold sores) facts
- What are herpes simplex infections?
- What causes cold sores?
- What are the risk factors for herpes simplex infections?
- What makes herpes (cold sores) recur?
- Are cold sores contagious?
- How do cold sores spread?
- What is the incubation period for cold sores?
- What is primary oral herpes?
- What does recurrent herpes look like?
- What are the signs and symptoms of cold sores?
- What other conditions can look like oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is angular stomatitis?
- What are canker sores?
- What types of doctors treat cold sores?
- What tests do health-care professionals use to diagnose oral herpes?
- How long do cold sores last?
- What is the treatment for cold sores, are there any home remedies, and what medications treat oral herpes?
- What are the possible complications of oral herpes (cold sores)?
- What is the prognosis for oral herpes (cold sores)?
- Is it possible to prevent cold sores?
What makes herpes (cold sores) recur?
After infection, the virus enters the nerve cells and travels up the nerve until it comes to a place called a ganglion. There, it resides quietly in a stage that is referred to as "dormant" or "latent." At times, the virus can become active and start replicating again and travel down the nerve to the skin, causing sores and blisters. The exact mechanism behind this is not clear, but it is known that some conditions seem to trigger recurrences, including
- a fever, a cold, or the flu;
- UV rays (exposure to the sun or a sunburn);
- emotional or physical stress (such as an illness or surgery);
- weakening of the immune system;
- trauma to the involved area such as dental work; and
- sometimes there is no apparent cause of the recurrence.
Are cold sores contagious?
Oral herpes is contagious to others who do not have it.
How do cold sores spread?
The virus is spread from person to person by kissing, by close contact with herpes lesions, or from saliva even when sores are not present. Infected saliva is a common means of virus transmission. The contagious period is highest when people have active blisters or moist sores. Once the blisters have dried and crusted over (within a few days), the risk of contagion is significantly lessened. HSV can also be spread through personal items that are contaminated with the virus, such as lipstick, utensils, and razors. Despite popular myth, catching herpes (cold sores) from surfaces, towels, or washcloths is a very low risk, since the virus does not usually survive long on dry surfaces.