More than half of Americans ages 14 to 49 carry the virus that causes cold sores, and the virus stays in the body even after the cold sores clear. If the virus reactivates or wakes up, you could get cold sores.
Many things can trigger a cold sore including a flu, cold or fever; sun exposure; stress, fatigue or just feeling run down; trauma including dental work, shaving cuts, facial or cosmetic surgery; and hormonal changes during pregnancy or menstruation. Cold sores are also highly contagious so to help prevent the cold sore from spreading to another person you should avoid intimate contact and sharing items such as cups, towels, razors and toothbrushes.
If you woke up and had a cold sore such as a small blister on your lip or around your mouth, would you know how to treat it? While cold sores do heal on their own, there are several things you can do to help manage the symptoms. One of the first signs that a cold sore is coming can be a tingling, burning or itching feeling. One thing that may help slow the reproduction of the virus and relieve the symptoms is to apply to the sore an over-the-counter ointment or antiviral cream.
Managing A Cold Sore
You can cool the sore as well as reduce the redness and irritation by placing a wet, cool towel on the cold sore for five minutes a few times daily.
You can reduce the pain of the cold sore by taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
You should also avoid foods that contain acid, including tomatoes and citrus fruits that may irritate the skin and add to the pain.
Cold sores are different from canker sores, which are not caused by a virus and occur inside of your mouth, said board-certified dermatologist Bruce A. Brod, MD, FAAD, clinical professor of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine. Cold sores may appear just once in a persons lifetime or return again and again. Cold sores usually heal in a few days to a couple of weeks, however prescription oral antiviral medication may be helpful for shortening the episode if taken within the first 72 hours. If you get cold sores frequently, speak with a board-certified dermatologist, as this medication may also be used for prevention.