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Cold sores are clusters of small blisters on the lip and skin around or inside the mouth. Often the first sign of a cold sore is a spot that tingles, burns, or itches. A blister usually forms within 24 hours. They are sometimes called fever blisters. The skin around the blisters can be red and inflamed. The blisters can break open, weep a clear fluid, and then scab over after a few days. Cold sores often heal in 7 to 10 days with no scar.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact. That means that if you have a cold sore and kiss another person, that person could get a cold sore too.
This is the same virus that causes some cases of genital herpes. So if you have a cold sore and have oral sex with someone, that person could get a sore in the genital area.
Cold sores will often go away on their own. But if they're painful, ask your doctor about a prescription antiviral medicine. It can relieve pain, help prevent outbreaks, and shorten the healing time.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
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Current as of: November 14, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
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