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Description of Cold Sores and Fever Blisters

Reviewed by Judith Hunter, MD
Description of Cold Sores and Fever Blisters
A form of the herpes virus is the cause of cold sores and fever blisters, which are contagious and passed on via saliva or skin contact. This can occur directly or through sharing the same glass or cutlery. It is common to become infected before the age of 10 and often appears as a small cluster of fever blisters. Once infected the virus remains dormant in the skin of the face and come active again, often triggered by a cold or a fever. There are many other factors that could also trigger an outbreak or cold sores and fever blisters including stress, sun exposure, illness and dental treatment. This form of herpes can also infect the fingertips, eyes and genitals. However, genital herpes is often caused by a different strain of the virus.

Sores and fever blisters often don’t occur the first time a person is infected with herpes. Instead they may have swellings and open sores in the mouth, which are usually painful. Other symptoms can include a fever, headaches and nausea and usually come on about a week after being exposed to the herpes virus. Cold sores and fever blisters are symptoms that occur when the virus become active again later in life. They usually occur on the border of the lip and sometimes inside of the mouth. They are more likely in people with a weakened immune system or other medical condition.

The first signs that you’re are developing a cold sore will be a tingling or itching feeling on the edge of your lip and you will probably have the urge to scratch it. It will then become red and swollen before tiny blisters, known as fever blisters will begin to appear. When these blisters pop they will turn into cold sores, which will eventually scab and heal. The whole process can take 1-2 weeks. In most cases cold sores or fever spots can be diagnosed by a doctor or dentist.


In order to prevent herpes, the first encounter, which usually happens during childhood, needs to be prevented. Don’t let children be kissed by anyone with cold sores, fever blisters or any other signs or symptoms of herpes. However it is very hard to watch over children all the time and it can be hard to avoid. The virus has infected most people by the time they reach adulthood.

There are some medications available to help a cold sore to heal faster as well as provide some pain and discomfort relief. Some treatments include zovirax, famvir and valtrex. These will not get rid of the virus; they will simply ease the symptoms. If you feel an outbreak occurring use the medicine to try to prevent it. Once the fever blisters and appeared on the lip, there is not much the medicines will do to help. If you know what triggers your cold sores, you can try using the medicine in advance if you know that you are going to be exposed to your trigger. Whilst cold sores are still present avoid kissing anyone or sharing cups. Keep the area clean and moist using lip balm.

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