Cold sores are unsightly, contagious, and—unfortunately—relatively common. Caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), cold sores usually appear around the mouth or nose and can last for up to two weeks. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you know how unpleasant they can be. Here are some facts about cold sores that may surprise you.
Fact # 1: HSV-1 Is Found In The Majority Of People
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 67% of people worldwide under the age of 50 have HSV-1. The virus is most commonly spread through contact with saliva, such as sharing utensils or kissing. It can also be spread through contact with infected skin, such as touching a cold sore or sharing towels.
Fact # 2: It Is Most Frequently Caught In Young Children
Cold sores are most commonly seen in young children, though they can occur at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, and young children are much more likely to come into contact with saliva than adults. For example, a parent or caregiver may pass the virus to a child through a kiss on the lips or cheek.
Fact # 3: Sun Exposure Can Trigger An Outbreak
Though the virus remains dormant in your body, it can be triggered by certain factors. Sun exposure is a common trigger for cold sore outbreaks. The sun’s UV rays can weaken the skin, making it more vulnerable to infection. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing can help reduce your risk of a cold sore outbreak.
Fact # 4: Stress Can Also Trigger An Outbreak
Stress is another common trigger for cold sores. When you are under stress, your body’s immune system is weakened, making it more susceptible to infection. To help prevent cold sore outbreaks, it is important to take steps to manage your stress levels.
Fact # 5: Cold Sores Usually Go Away On Their Own After A Week Or Two
Cold sores usually clear up on their own within a week or two without any treatment necessary. However, there are treatments available if you want to speed up the healing process or if you experience frequent outbreaks. Some home remedies include applying ice to the sore or using lip balm with sunscreen to protect the sore from further irritation. If over-the-counter treatments don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication to help clear up the infection more quickly.
Fact # 6: There Is No Cure For Cold Sores
Unfortunately, there is no cure for either HSV-1 or HSV-2—but there are treatments available that can help shorten the duration of an outbreak and speed up the healing process. These include topical antiviral creams (like acyclovir) and oral medications (like valacyclovir). If you’re experiencing a particularly severe outbreak, your doctor may also prescribe steroids or antiviral drugs intravenously.
However, it’s important to note that these treatments will not completely eliminate the virus from your body—they will only help shorten the duration of an outbreak and make the symptoms less severe.
Fact # 7 : Not Everyone With HSV-1 Will Experience Outbreaks
While it is true that HSV-1 can lie dormant in your body for years, not everyone who is infected with the virus will experience regular outbreaks. Outbreaks are more likely to occur when a person’s immune system is weakened from another illness, such as a cold or the flu. Stress and fatigue can also trigger an outbreak.
Fact # 8: Cold Sores Are Not Caused By Cancer
A common misconception about cold sores is that they are caused by cancer. However, this is not true. Cold sores are caused by HSV-1, which is a different virus entirely. Cancerous growths can sometimes resemble cold sores, but if you have any concerns, you should always consult with your doctor to be sure.
Fact # 9: Changeable Weather Can Cause A Cold Sore To Appear
Have you ever noticed that you seem to get more cold sores when the weather changes? There might be something to that. One study found that 60% of people with HSV said their cold sores were triggered by changes in temperature or humidity. So if you tend to get cold sores when the seasons change, there might be a meteorological explanation for it.
Fact # 10: Not Just The Lips Can Get Cold Sores
Cold sores usually develop on or around the lips, which is why they’re also known as “fever blisters”. However, HSV can also cause sores on other parts of the body, including the fingers, nose, and cheeks. In some rare cases, HSV has even been known to cause eye infections. So, if you develop a sore in an unusual place, don’t assume it’s just a pimple—it could be a cold sore.
Fact # 11: All Stages Of Cold Sore Development Are Contagious
That’s right—even if you don’t see a cold sore, you can still pass on the HSV to another person. In fact, studies have shown that as many as 90% of people who get cold sores are actually asymptomatic, meaning they never develop any visible symptoms. However, they can still shed the virus and infect others. So, if you have ever had a cold sore or been diagnosed with HSV, it’s important to take precautions to avoid spreading it to others.
Fact # 12: The First Outbreak Is The Worst
While no cold sore is fun, the first outbreak is typically the worst. The first time you experience symptoms, the sore will likely last for 10-14 days. Future breakouts will usually be shorter in duration. After the first outbreak, most people will have 2-4 outbreaks per year. However, some people only experience one outbreak, while others may have several dozen. Outbreaks usually become less severe and less frequent over time.
Fact # 13: There Is No Vaccine For Cold Sores… Yet
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine available to prevent cold sores. However, researchers are looking into the possibility of developing a vaccine that could help people with HSV to reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks. Until then, cold sores can still be managed with antiviral medications, home remedies, and lifestyle changes.
Fact # 14: You Can Reduce Your Risk of Spreading the Virus
If you have HSV, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading it to others. Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands and avoiding sharing utensils or towels with others. It’s also important to avoid sharing lip balms or other cosmetics that may have come into contact with the virus. Finally, if you are experiencing an outbreak, avoid intimate contact until the sore has healed completely. This can help reduce the risk of passing on the virus to others.
Fact # 15: There Are Some Signs That Can Indicate An Outbreak Is About To Happen
If you experience tingling, itching, burning, or pain around your lips, these may be early signs that a cold sore is about to form. If you can catch it early enough, you may be able to use a cold sore treatment to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Some people may even experience flu-like symptoms prior to an outbreak, such as fatigue, fever, or a sore throat. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to be extra vigilant about avoiding contact with others and taking steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Fact # 16: The Stigma May Be More Dangerous Than The Actual Illness
While cold sores are generally harmless, the virus that causes them—HSV—can be dangerous for certain people, such as newborns or people with weak immune systems. However, the stigma surrounding cold sores can be just as dangerous as the virus itself. People with cold sores often feel embarrassed and ashamed, which can lead to social isolation and depression. It’s important to remember that cold sores are very common and not something to be ashamed of.
Fact # 17: Once You Develop A Cold Sore, They Will Probably Return Repeatedly
Once you have the HSV, it will remain in your body for life. That means that cold sores may come back periodically—usually when your immune system is weakened or when you are under stress. However, there are ways to manage them and reduce their frequency.
Fact # 18: Cold Sores Can Be Spread From The Mouth To The Genitals—And Vice Versa
While it is most common for HSV-1 to cause oral herpes and HSV-2 to lead to genital herpes, it is possible for either virus to infect either location. If you have HSV-1 and perform oral sex on someone with HSV-2, you can give them oral herpes.
Similarly, if you have HSV-2 and engage in sexual intercourse with someone who has HSV-1, you can give them genital herpes. In short, be careful! The best way to prevent the spread of any virus is to practice safe sex by using condoms or dental dams. If you or your partner have any active cold sores, abstain from sexual activity until they have healed completely.
Fact # 19: A Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Reduce The Frequency Of Cold Sores
Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress can all help keep your immune system strong—and that means that you’re less likely to experience outbreaks of HSV-1 or HSV-2, so if you’re looking for ways to reduce your risk of cold sores, start by taking care of yourself!
Cold sores are unpleasant for everyone involved. However, understanding more about them can help you avoid them—or at least minimize their impact when they do occur. The next time you feel a tingling sensation around your mouth or nose, take action immediately to prevent a full-blown cold sore from appearing. You can also check our article on Homemade Remedies for Cold Sores That Actually Work.
And remember: even if you don’t have any visible symptoms, you can still spread the virus to others. So always take precautions to avoid infecting others and always practice good hygiene!
We hope that this post on facts about cold sores has been helpful in removing any misconceptions you may have had. Remember, you are not alone—cold sores can affect anyone! If you take the necessary precautions and keep yourself healthy, you can reduce your risk of experiencing an outbreak. Good luck!