Cold Sores/ Fever Blisters / Recurrent Herpes Labialis
Greek scholars, including Hippocrates, initiated the use of the word ‘herpes’ to describe these lesions caused by the virus we now call herpes simplex. The word ‘herpes’ means to creep or crawl. The Greeks describe it as the manner in which these lesions spread.
The first outbreak is confusing as the patient gets a tingling sensation that is accompanied with a burning and itchy sensation, and just when the patient feels that it will subside, a blister or cluster of small blisters appear at the corner or edge of the lips which are painful and reddish purple in color at first. Occasionally, they occur on the nostrils, chin or fingers. Although unusual, they may also occur inside the mouth (gums or hard palate). With each new breakout cold sores typically form in the same location as they have before. These blisters may break open and leak a clear fluid; then scab over after a few days. They usually heal in several days to 2-weeks.
The herpes simplex virus is not completely eliminated from the body. Following orofacial infection, it remains dormant in the facial nerves, periodically reactivating to create sores in the same area of the mouth or face at the site of the original infection. An infected person typically experiences 1-3 outbreaks every year. The frequency and severity of the outbreaks decreases with time.
Cold sores generally heal without any treatment in 7-10 days. Antiviral medications can help to decrease the severity and frequency of cold sores.