Fever blisters are also called cold sores. These are a group of tiny, painful blisters on or around your lips caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). When the blisters burst, they form a painful scab that can last from several days to about 3 weeks. They can be passed on from one person to the other through kissing, oral sex or contact with the fluid from the blisters.
Fever blisters cannot be are cured, but the pain and discomfort can be reduced by over-the-counter medicines. There is usually no disability after the disease goes away and the scab heals without leaving a scar.
Two types of the virus can cause fever blisters, namely by HSV-1 and, less commonly, by HSV-2. Both types can also cause sores on your genitals and can be spread by oral sex.
Type 1 usually causes cold sores, and type 2 mostly causes genital herpes.
Certain things can trigger an outbreak, including:
- Sunburn following a long period in the sun.
- Dental work or cosmetic surgery.
Fever blisters are most likely to show up on the outside of your mouth and lips, but you can also get them on your nose and cheeks. You may get them as late as 20 days after you have been infected.
Cold sores happen in five stages:
- You have a tingling, burning, or itching feeling.
- About 12 to 24 hours later, blisters form. The area becomes red, swollen, and painful.
- The blisters break open, and fluid comes out. This usually lasts 2 or 3 days.
- A scab forms on the sore. It might crack or bleed.
- The scab falls off.
First-time infections can also cause:
- Burning and pain inside your mouth.
- Sore throat.
- Pain when swallowing.
- Upset stomach.
Fever blisters generally clear up without treatment. See your healthcare provider if:
- You have a weakened immune system.
- The cold sores don't heal within two weeks.
- Symptoms are severe.
- You have frequent recurrences of cold sores.
- You experience irritation in your eyes.
You can't prevent fever blisters, but you can reduce how many times it reoccurs. Wash your hands frequently with soap to prevent spreading the infection. Take the antiviral medicines when prescribed by your healthcare provider. By eating a healthy diet that supports your immunity, you can also reduce how frequently the blisters reoccur.
- Wash your hands after touching a cold sore.
- Don't rub your eyes after touching your cold sore; you could develop a herpes infection in your eye, which may lead to blindness if left untreated.
- Don't touch your genitals after touching your cold sore; you could develop genital herpes.
- Replace your toothbrush.
- Don't kiss someone who has a cold sore or use that person's utensils, towels or razors.
- Apply sunscreen to the face and lips before prolonged exposure to the sun.
- Replace your lipstick or lip balm.
- Pain can be treated with mild pain relievers (like paracetamol) and soothed by moisturizing the lips. You can use unscented petroleum jelly to moisturize your lips.
- Cooling the affected area can relieve discomfort. Apply an ice pack to the sore for temporary relief.
- Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral pill or cream (like acyclovir or valacyclovir). Creams are to be applied to the sores several times a day. In general, the pills work better than the creams.
- For very severe infections, your healthcare provider can give you some antiviral drugs as an injection.
Cold sores on the lips are most contagious when the sores are open. Though they often heal and clear on their own, ensure personal hygiene to prevent spreading to your genitals. Also, be careful not to infect others by avoiding contact with your fever blisters.