Cold Sore

How to Tell if You Have a Cold Sore

If you’ve ever felt that familiar tingle on your lip, you probably haven’t forgotten what comes next. They can be called fever blisters or cold sores, but most people know them to be painful and annoying.

What is a Cold Sore?

A cold sore is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Cold sores can be confused with canker sores as they are both painful sores in the mouth area. The location of the blister is the key difference; canker sores are inside the mouth, while cold sores are usually outside of the mouth and lips.

Herpes simplex virus is most frequently seen on the lips and sides of the mouth. But, like its sister virus, the herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2), it can affect the genitals, as well. HSV-1 and HSV-2 can both be around the mouth and genitals, the World Health Organization warns.

What Are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?

Cold sore symptoms are important to recognize as soon as possible, in order to begin treatment. They include:

  • Tingling, itching or burning sensation on the lip
  • Localized redness
  • Formation of a pea or dime-sized blister

You may wonder what a cold sore looks like; to understand this, you need to know the various phases of the cold sore as it changes in appearance.

It is important to note that cold sores cause localized swelling to the lip. This means that only a tiny part of the lip should be affected. If you ever have your entire lip or mouth start to itch, burn, or swell, you should immediately call 911, as this may be a sign of a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Different Types of Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. They are also known as oral herpes, since they are seen around the mouth. Herpes seen on the genitals is known as genital herpes. Oral herpes appears as a cold sore or fever blister on the lips. An outbreak may be triggered by excessive exposure to sunshine, illness, fever, tiredness, or hormonal changes.

Distinguishing a Cold Sore From Other Types of Sores

Cold sores are different than other types of sores that you may get. Other illnesses such as impetigo, acne rosacea, and chickenpox leave sores on the face, but these look different and rarely affect the lips. Cold sores can also be distinguished from other sores because they typically follow three specific stages from the first detection to healing. The first phase starts as a tickle or itchy sensation on your lip. This can last a few hours or up to a day.

Phase two starts the blister phase. This phase begins as a tiny mass of white blisters; these may look like acne blisters, but they are not. The blisters are painful to the touch and seem to multiply very quickly. At first glance, you may only notice two or three, but later, there can be as many as ten.

The third phase begins as the blisters erupt and begin to dry out. Clear fluid is often present when the blisters erupt, and this fluid is highly contagious to other people. As the liquid dries out, small craters will be left, and scabs form. Sometimes there will be minimal bleeding if you move your mouth in a way that breaks open the scab.

The third phase ends once the sore is completely healed. Scarring does not typically happen with cold sores. The residual redness can take a week or two to disappear completely.

Treating a Cold Sore

If you ever suffer through a cold sore, you’ll want to know how to get rid of it fast, as they can be painful, embarrassing, and seem to last forever. It is important to remember that an outbreak of these sores is caused by a rapidly multiplying virus. The faster you can stop the virus outbreak from growing and blistering, the more quickly you will heal.

One of the best ways to prevent an outbreak is by following good, basic hygiene. If someone you know has had an outbreak, make sure you wash your hands frequently. Instituting a no-sharing policy can help reduce spreading the virus. This means that you should never share a friend’s chapstick, lipstick, lip gloss, or any make-up brush or sponge that may have come into contact with their mouth.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests treating a cold sore through medication. Antiviral medication can help slow the growth of the virus and shorten the time of the illness. These medications can be prescribed by your doctor and can be taken in pill form or applied as a cream. Most importantly, you should not wait, but should start these medications when you first notice the cold sore.



If you have cold sores or symptoms that make you suspect that you may have them, you should consider seeking an online medical consultation. The telehealth technology used by Alpha Medical provides instant access to physicians online who can perform an online consultation directly from the comfort of your home and provide online prescriptions that can be shipped directly to your door. Set up a membership with us to start your treatment today.

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