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

What are the signs and symptoms of cold sores?

The hallmark symptom of herpes is tingling or a burning sensation before the appearance of the outbreak. The classic sign of herpes is a cluster of blisters on a base of red skin. The blisters look like a drop of water filled with clear liquid. These blisters dry up rapidly and leave a crust or scab that lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the infection. This pattern has important implications for the many people who fear they have herpes but don't, If you are healthy and the rash lasts for weeks, it is unlikely to be herpes.

Herpes infections feel dry and crusty, and they may cause pain or itch. Some patients have a "prodrome," which is the occurrence of certain symptoms before the actual sores become fully evident. The prodrome to herpes infections typically involves a burning or tingling sensation that precedes the appearance of blisters by a few hours or a day or two.

What other conditions can look like oral herpes (cold sores)?

There are many conditions that can be confused with herpes, including scrapes, razor burns, pimples, impetigo, angular stomatitis (sores at the corners of the mouth), and canker sores (aphthous ulcers).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/15/2016

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