Once a person comes in contact with the cold sore virus, it may remain dormant for his or her lifetime, not showing any symptoms. During this period, the virus is present in a person's system but does not have any outward signs. This dormancy period is also referred to as the latent stage. During this stage, the virus "hides" in the back of the jaw; when the immune system is weakened, it surfaces on the lip.
A cold sore, also known as a fever blister, is a lip infection caused by the herpes simplex I virus. This virus is not the same as the sexually transmitted disease (STD) herpes virus II and is instead related to the chickenpox virus. Herpes simplex I causes blister-like sores on the mouth, usually in the corner of the lip. Cold sores are viral infections and therefore cannot be cured. Cold sores usually appear as recurring clusters of sores on the lips. Cold sores have two different stages: dormant and active.
When the cold sore virus is in its latent phase, this means that a blister is present. Though the virus can remain dormant for years, once a person has a cold sore outbreak, sores tend to reappear in the same spot over the course of a lifetime.
About 24 hours before a cold sore appears, there is usually a sensation of tingling, itching or heat on the lip where the sore will appear. The cold sore appears as a red blister that oozes clear or yellow fluid. The sore usually remains visible for about a week before drying up. In some cases, the cold sore sufferer will also have a low-grade fever and possibly swollen lymph nodes.
One of the most effective ways to treat a cold sore is to prevent it from occurring. Cold sores often appear after prolonged sun exposure, periods of emotional stress, menstruation or intestinal distress. If a person keeps the lips conditioned during these times, the chances of a cold sore surfacing can be lessened. Keeping lips conditioned can also reduce the chances of catching the virus from another. Recognizing the signs of a fever blister before it appears can also be effective in the treatment of the virus. If a person knows that a fever blister is about to surface, he can use over-the-counter medicated ointments. This keeps the lip conditioned and can reduce the amount of time the cold sore is visible. It also prevents cracking and drying, which can make the sore more painful.
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