What Causes Cold Sores?

What Causes Cold Sores to Break Out in Your Mouth?

Cold sores are embarrassing, even painful. There’s lots of rumors about cold sores, their cause and effects, and how cold sores are contracted. Let’s take a look at the causes of cold sores.

Cold Sore Causes

Cold sores are caused by one of the two herpes simplex viruses–the most common cause of common cold sores around the mouth is what is known as “herpes simplex type 1”, or HSV-1.

Not everyone with cold sores around the mouth have HSV-1. It isn’t common, but some people develop HSV-2 sores on the mouth. Why is this less common?

What Is HSV-2?

HSV-2 is the form of herpes simplex virus that occurs “below the waist”, meaning near the genitals. When a person has oral sex with someone who has HSV-2 on their genitals, the likelihood that they will develop HSV-2 sores near the mouth is extremely high.

HSV-2 is most commonly called “genital herpes” and is different from the disease occurring near the mouth. Cold sores are not the same as genital herpes.

What Are Canker Sores?

What Causes Cold Sores?

Some people confuse cold sores and canker sores. A canker sore is a tiny ulcer that looks like an indentation or a crater anywhere on the lining of the mouth. These sores are usually very painful, and are known to doctors as “aphthous ulcers”. Canker sores settle in the soft tissue of the mouth, where it is impossible to have a cold sore.

How Common Are Cold Sores and Fever Blisters?

Cold sores are very common. Some evidence suggests that as much as 60% of the American population suffers from cold sores. The virus that causes cold sores and genital sores is so common that most people are no longer tested for strains of herpes simplex virus as part of routine STD panels.

How Do Cold Sores Develop?

Most sufferers of cold sores can tell when a sore is on its way by the distinctive tingling and burning sensation, redness on the skin, itching, and pain associated with a cold sore. These pains usually occur around the lips or mouth a few days before a sore appears.

This is the first stage of a cold sore–the symptoms listed above are known as “prodromal symptoms”. Unfortunately for sufferers of cold sores, the first stage of sores can happen fast, developing in just a few hours. It is common for a flare-up to happen overnight, while a person is sleeping.

The second stage of a cold sore’s life is the formation of the blisters themselves. Once the cold sore blister itself has developed, the sore bursts and an ugly yellow crust forms on the skin. Once this falls off, the skin beneath is essentially healed, with maybe a tiny pink mark that fades with time.

The whole process takes about a week to ten days.

How Contagious Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores and the virus that causes them are extremely contagious. The HSV-1 virus can be passed from person to person and even from one part of the body to another through casual skin-to-skin contact. This can even happen when cold sores are not visible.

The cold sore virus is commonly transmitted during kissing or oral sex, and through hand contact with the genitals and mouth. The HSV-1 virus can even be passed through casual contact like sharing a drinking glass, eating utensils, towels and food.

Cure for Cold Sores

There is no cure or treatment for people who get cold sores. There are steps you can take to prevent a cold sore flare up in the future.

1. Use a lip moisturizer and lip sunblock regularly to prevent your lips from becoming dry, damaged, or chapped. All three of these things can cause cold sores to flare up.

2. Learn to avoid your personal cold sore triggers. The most common cold sore triggers are stress and overexposure to the sun. Some people report that cold weather, greasy food, and even their menstrual cycle contributes to their flare-up problem.

3. Stay away from UV lamps, tanning beds, and the sun as much as possible. Use a sunblock of at least SPF 30.

4. Go to a relaxation therapist, take a yoga class, or practice some form of meditation. Relaxation has been proven to stave off a cold sore flare-up.

5. Maintain a healthy immune system by eating a healthy diet full of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Exercise at least two hours a week at your peak cardio rate. Take anti-oxidants and vitamin supplements which have been shown to keep cold sores at bay.

6. Do not kiss or make skin contact with people who have cold sores. You should also avoid the same contact with other people when you have a flare-up yourself.

7. Never share food, cups, cans, utensils, or anything (even towels) with people when you or they have cold sores present.

8. Wash your hands frequently if you feel a cold sore developing. Keeping your hands very clean can also prevent flareups, and it will keep you from passing the virus on to another person or infecting another part of your body.

9. Get at least six hours of sleep every night. Studies show people who sleep for at least six hours every night have fewer flare-ups, possibly because of lower levels of stress hormone which trigger the flare-ups themselves.

See also:

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  3. What Causes Bed Bugs?
  4. What Causes Bad Breath?
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  6. What Causes Constipation?
  7. What Causes Hangovers?