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The Secrets Behind Cold Sores and What Causes Them

We've got some bad news.

It starts as a slight tingling sensation on the outside of your lips, and within a few hours, it’s become a full-blown blister. While cold sores aren’t the worst virus known to man, they’re incredibly common, sometimes painful, and totally embarrassing. But, what exactly are they, and are they preventable?

What Cold Sores Are and How They Spread

Bad news: technically, cold sores are a type of herpes – specifically, herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2. While you might think that herpes is spread only through sexual contact, that’s not always the case. It can also spread through kissing or any other way you might come into contact with herpes-infected saliva, such as by sharing a drink or eating utensil. Cold sores are usually contained to the area around the mouth, but they can spread to other parts of the body, so if you have an outbreak, be careful not to touch the infected area.

What Happens When You Have Cold Sores

So, what’s the physical science behind cold sores? Well, you’re more likely to face an outbreak when you’re not feeling well. When your immune system is busy fighting a cold, flu, or another sickness, the mucous membrane around your mouth become inflamed and the virus spreads, leading to the blisters so common to cold sores. These blisters grow and grow until the fluid contained within them becomes so much that the blisters break, leaving scabs.

Are They Preventable or Treatable?

More bad news: If you’ve got cold sores, you’ve got cold sores, and that’s the way it’s going to stay. There is no cure for them. However, there is a glimmer of hope for those afflicted with this uncomfortable condition. While cold sores can never truly go away, you can reduce the risk of them popping up. For one, help out your immune system by practicing cleanliness and reducing stress, which can help bring cold sores on. Also, avoid contact with others who are suffering from cold sores. You’ll be more likely to suffer an outbreak, even if you already have the herpes complex.

Dealing With Cold Sores

While there’s nothing you can really do about getting rid of cold sores once you’ve got them, you do have some control when you feel an outbreak coming on. As soon as you feel the familiar tingling sensation on your lips, apply a topical medicine designed for cold sores. Doing so can make the blisters less acute and shorter lasting. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait the standard time for the condition to run its course, which can be anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

[Image via Getty]

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