Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Herpes simplex virus type I is the one that usually causes a cold sore. Herpes simplex type II usually causes genital herpes. Either type can cause a lesion on the face or genitals. Most people are exposed to the virus as a child, but anyone can be exposed at any age. Once exposed, the virus lies dormant in the nerve cells of the skin and may reoccur as an active infection at or near the site where the first cold sore appeared.
Stress, illness, menstruation, fever and sun exposure may trigger the recurrence of a cold sore. Some seem to have recurrent outbreaks and are not aware of the triggers that cause the cold sore.
When a cold sore starts, the area usually has an itching or tingling sensation, called prodome. This usually occurs one to two days prior to the blister forming. The usual duration is seven to ten days. First a blister forms, breaks and oozes. A yellow crust forms and sloughs off to pink skin that heals with no scar.
The incubation time for a cold sore after exposure is up to 20days. This delayed reaction usually causes the person to forget that they were exposed. It is possible that you may not know you are exposed at all. It is best to avoid sharing any lip balm or lipstick to avoid spreading the virus. Kissing someone with a cold sore is also contagious as well as sharing drinks, food utensils, towels or razors.
Canker sores are sometimes thought of as a cold sore, but is totally different. A canker sore is an ulceration in your mouth and is not contagious, A cold sore is caused from the herpes simplex virus and is very contagious.
Getting a prescription for an antiviral medication is the best way to shorten the duration and pain of the cold sore. If started at the first sign of the cold sore, the medication can alleviate most of your symptoms. Without any treatment, the discomfort may last up to ten days. If a prescription can't be obtained, there are several over the counter medications to help, but will not alleviate the cold sore. Over the counter medications will help ease the discomfort, but not shorten the duration. It is always best to visit your physician for treatment. This can alleviate a lot of the pain, discomfort, and embarrassment of having these lesions.