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Cold sores on the face can be unpleasant, but pose few major health risks. Cold sores, also called fever blisters, first appear as small, fluid-filled blisters around the lips or mouth, although they can sometimes occur in the nose or other places on the face. These blisters then break open, leak a clear fluid and scab over. Cold sores will heal in about one to two weeks.
Cold sores and fever blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two strains: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1, also known as oral herpes, is the most common cause of cold sores on the face. This virus is often spread through non-sexual means during childhood from a casual kiss or sharing a drink. HSV-2 sometimes causes oral herpes outbreaks when transferred during oral sex.
An STD test can diagnose cold sores on the face, even though most cold sore infections are not acquired through sexual contact. Since HSV-1 and HSV-2 cause similar symptoms, a genital herpes test and oral herpes test are recommended. STD testing for herpes can diagnose the virus even when symptoms are absent.
Antiviral medication can curb the frequency of oral herpes outbreaks and lessen the severity of symptoms. When an outbreak is present, medication is available to treat cold sores on the face. With treatment, cold sores can be managed successfully.