Herpes simplex virus-1, commonly referred to as the cold sore, is a small, painful blister that generally appears on the lips of the mouth. Cold sores might also appear inside the nose or elsewhere on the face.
Once a person has contracted a cold sore virus it will remain dormant within the body's nerve system until the next break-out. When you have a cold sore eruption, the virus follows the nerve endings up to the surface of the skin.
Typically speaking, cold sores tend to show up in the same place each time they erupt. Before the blister appears, you may feel a tingling or numb sensation in the area. Applying ice at this point can nip the virus in the bud and result in a smaller blister. The cold sore will erupt into a red painful blister that will last about seven to 10 days from beginning to end.
After a few days, the blister dries up and a yellow crust appears in its place. This scab should not be picked or touched. If the scab is removed before the skin beneath it has healed it can bleed profusely and leave behind a black scab, which is much more noticeable and will take longer to heal.
If not properly cared for, cold sores can develop into bacterial skin infections that are very dangerous to those who have compromised immune systems, such as the very young, the elderly, cancer patients, and people already infected with a life-threatening virus like HIV or AIDS. If you have a cold sore, wash your hands often to prevent passing on the virus to others, and do not share bath towels and washcloths.
Foods to avoid include peanut butter and peanut products. Other triggers include hormonal changes, stress, sunlight, cold weather, infections, and viruses such as the flu.
How Do You Get Cold Sores?
Cold sores are very common. Most people received their first cold sore when they were very young either from an adult, sibling or playmate. Because herpes simplex-1 is a virus, it is contagious and easily passed on from person to person through direct contact. That doesn't mean you must kiss someone with a cold sore in order to contract the virus. Though cold sores can be passed that way, most viruses are passed when sharing food, lipstick or a tissue.
The best way to keep from infecting another person is to maintain good hygiene at all times. If you have the herpes simplex-1 virus in your system, you may not always be in a break-out stage, but you will always carry the virus. That doesn't mean you are contagious at all times, but it does mean you should always maintain good hand and face washing policies. Do not touch your cold sore with your hand or fingers. If you must dab at it, do so with a tissue and then discard the tissue and wash your hands.
Cold Sores vs. Genital Herpes
While the virus that generally causes genital herpes (herpes simplex-2) and the virus that causes cold sores (herpes simplex-1) are different, it is possible to pass a cold sore to the genital area through oral sex. It is also possible to pass herpes simplex-2 to the mouth through oral sex. The cold sore virus can also be passed on to skin that has been cut or has an abrasion on it, as well as to the vaginal or anal area through bad hand washing practices. Be sure to take extra precautions in this area.