cold sore on the bottom corner of the lower lip

Cold Sores: What You Need To Know

It isn’t uncommon to see people unexpectedly have a conspicuous sore show up on their lips or around their mouths. It happens to men, women and even young children.

As common as this occurrence is, there are many popular misconceptions about it. Some people, especially in Nigeria believe it is caused by malaria, and that when cold sores develop, it is a sign that they are recovering from it. 

Let’s talk about what cold sores really are.

What exactly is a cold sore?

A cold sore is a small fluid-filled blister that appears around the lips or mouth. It may start with a painful, itchy or give a tingling sensation before the blisters start to appear. They usually dry up to form scaps and eventually heal in a few days, but cold sores can be quite the bother, especially given the location.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are usually caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 1 (HSV 1). The virus is highly contagious and that explains why cold sores are very common. It can be spread through kissing and even non-sexual contact like sharing kitchen utensils, towels and lip products (lipstick, lipgloss, lip balm etc.)

How do you get cold sores?

When people get infected by Herpes Simples Virus type 1, the virus can stay inactive for a long time, maybe even years. This is why many people are unaware that they have been infected. The virus stays dormant during that time in nerve cells in your face called the trigeminal ganglion and doesn’t become active until it is triggered. When this happens, a cold sore starts to develop. Tis is called an outbreak.

What can trigger a cold sore?

Several factors can cause the dormant virus to become active. They include

  • Stress (whether emotional or physical)
  • Illness. A fever could trigger a cold sore and this is perhaps why it is believed to be caused by fever. The fever only triggers the inactive virus but it doesn’t cause it.
  • Hormonal changes: When people go through menopause or menstruation, it can cause fluctuation in their hormones and this could trigger a cold sore
  • Changes in the immune system: Having another condition that compromises the immune system can trigger a cold sore
  • Exposure to extreme temperature conditions: When an environment gets too hot or too cold, such factors can trigger an outbreak.

Is it possible to have HSV-1 and never get a cold sore?

The Herpes Simplex virus once caught doesn’t go away, but many people who have been infected don’t experience outbreaks. Some experience it at the initial stage of infection and don’t get any cold sores after, while some others may get regular outbreaks.

How long do cold sores last?

With people who don’t  have other conditions compromising their health, cold sores usually clear up in less than a week or two.

How to prevent the spread of HSV-1

  1. Practise safe sex at all times. Use condoms during anal or vaginal sex and dental dams for oral sex
  2. Do not kiss babies on the lips and as a new mother, do not allow your baby to be kissed on the lips.
  3. Make a habit of washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  4. Avoid sharing lipcare products like lip balms and lipstick.
  5. Wash your utensils regularly and do your best to avoid sharing face towels, make-up applicators.

Outbreaks can usually be treated effectively with antiviral medications that can easily be purchased over the counter, but if you experience cold sores frequently, seeing a doctor is the best course of action.

It’s okay to be a littlee worried about cold sores but you can get some clarity on your infection status, get tested forHerpes Simplex I and II test now.

There are many other infections that may cause you worry as a sexually active adult. Early detection is very important when it comes to treatment and management of  Sexually Transmitted Infections. If you do not know your STI status,  it’s a great time to do so. Order a Lemon kit to collect your own samples and test for 5 common STIs without leaving home.


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