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What is a cold sore?

Cold sores are also known as a fever blister that usually forms on the lips or around your mouth. A cold sore is one of the most common viral infections. It’s an infection caused by a virus called the Herpes Simplex Virus, usually “type-1” (HSV-1).

The Herpes Simplex Virus is also called the cold sore virus. The herpes simplex virus is most often acquired through kissing, close personal contact, or sharing food and utensils with an infected person. It may also be spread by hand or glasses, after contact with cold sores, so it is important to wash your hands frequently and glasses thoroughly. The herpes simplex virus is contagious from the first sign of an outbreak until it is completely healed.

The cold sore is marked by a fluid filled blister that makes the skin red and swollen. The blisters of the cold sore are often very painful. As these blisters are filled with fluid, the upper layer is very tender and rubbing them can lead to severe infection. If medication is taken on time, the blisters can be healed without any scar formation.

Yet, in most cases, the blisters have tendency to reappear. Unlike most other viruses, when the herpes simplex virus enters your body it never leaves. After the first infection, the virus travels to an area of your face called the trigeminal nerve ganglion. There is a trigeminal nerve ganglion on each side of your face and it is located slightly in-front of your ear. Here the virus hides from the body’s immune system by becoming dormant or “sleeping”. Some triggers (like stress, fatigue, exposure to intense sunlight) “wake up” the virus which then becomes active in people who get cold sores. The nerves that provide sensation to your face (trigeminal nerves) branch out from where the herpes simplex virus is hiding. When the virus “wakes up” it travels down these nerves to your lips and mouth area, eventually infecting lip cells. Cold sores usually take place close to the original infection site. Infected lip cells become the visible sores we call cold sores.

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