Fever blisters and cold sores are one of the most common of all types of mouth sores. Appearing as a cluster of small blisters on or around the lip, cold sores and fever blisters are not only uncomfortable; they are also a nuisance and an embarrassment. Typically, they are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, also known as HSV-1 (not to be confused with virus that causes genital herpes, which is HSV-2). While HSV-1 may sound serious, the virus is actually quite common. In fact, it is estimated that 8 out of every 10 people have the virus that leads to fever blisters and cold sores.
The reason these sores are so common is that they are extremely contagious. The HSV-1 virus is passed along by either skin contact or saliva. Even drinking out of the same glass as an infected person can result in contracting the virus. The majority of people who catch the HSV-1 virus do so before they’re 10 years old. After the initial infection occurs, the virus typically lies dormant, only reappearing on occasion and usually as a result of the infected person either getting a cold or developing a fever. There are other causes for the virus to become active as well, such as stress, too much sun exposure, another type of illness, dental procedures, or some kind of trauma to the lips. Cold sores appear during those times when the virus becomes active.
The best way to prevent fever blisters and cold sores is to avoid becoming infected with the HSV-1 virus to begin with. This may be harder with children, who are more prone to share drinking glasses and come into skin-to-skin contact with other kids when playing. If you are not already infected with the virus as an adult, you should exercise caution in order to avoid HSV-1.
If you already have the virus, there are still some precautions you can take to help avoid developing cold sores and fever blisters. Use a good quality sunscreen on your lips. Avoid stress whenever possible. And ask your dentist about antiviral medicines that can prevent sores from developing. Certain medicines that help fever blisters to heal faster may also help to prevent them from forming in the first place, including acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex). Taking these drugs once you feel a cold sore coming on may very well
prevent one altogether.
For many people, cold sores and fever blisters are simply an inconvenient fact of life. But if you are fortunate enough to not be infected with the HSV-1 virus, take appropriate precautions. Don’t share drinking glasses or eating utensils with people who have cold sores or fever blisters. And avoid close skin-to-skin contact with other people who have visible sores. That may sound like a lot of effort, but people who suffer from cold sores will tell you that if you can avoid getting them, it’s well worth it!