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Cold sores are a common problem affecting millions. These sores, also called fever blisters, don’t pose many serious medical problems, but they can be painful and embarrassing. Before an outbreak, a tingling or painful sensation may occur around the mouth or lips before blisters appear. A cluster of fluid-filled blisters will then appear and eventually break open leaking a clear fluid. Cold sores will then crust over and heal within a week or two.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two strains of this virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both strains produce cold sores, although HSV-1 is responsible for the majority of oral infections. However, HSV-1 can be transmitted genitally during oral sex and vice versa.
STD testing can diagnose cold sores. Type-specific herpes testing can determine whether outbreaks are caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 and provide a diagnosis even when symptoms aren’t present.
Antiviral medication can help stop cold sores. This medication suppresses the virus making outbreak less prevalent. Treatment can also alleviate genital and oral herpes symptoms.