Fever blisters, cold sores…whatever you call them, they’re no fun. But they are common and can be treated, so let’s get into it.
What Is a Fever Blister?
If you’ve never had one, consider yourself lucky. A fever blister (also called a cold sore – they are the same) isn’t serious or life-threatening, but it is painful. These fluid-filled blisters appear on and around your lips, sometimes in clusters. The blisters eventually break, ooze, scab over, and flake off within 2-3 weeks. Fever blisters spread through close contact like kissing or sharing drinks. There isn’t a cure for fever blisters, but treatment can make a breakout more manageable.
How Will I Know If I Have a Fever Blister?
Fever blisters typically occur in stages. First, you’ll notice a tingling, burning, or itching feeling around your lips for about 12-24 hours before a blister or patch of blisters appear. After another 2-3 days, the blister will eventually pop and ooze. These wounds will scab over, and you may experience some cracking and bleeding. Lastly, the scab will fall off, and you will return to normal.
You may also experience pain or burning inside the mouth, painful gums, a sore throat, pain when you swallow, muscle aches, a headache, or an upset stomach.
Where Do They Come From?
Fever blisters or cold sores are typically caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a viral infection that can be spread by coming into contact with those that carry the virus. We mentioned kissing before, but it can also be from sharing utensils, towels, or razors. A person is most contagious when the blisters are open.
How to Treat Fever Blisters
Most cold sores heal on their own, but there are things you can do at home to move the process along or manage your symptoms.
As soon as you suspect a fever blister is forming, apply some over-the-counter cold sore ointment such as Abreva using a cotton swab so you don’t spread the virus to other parts of your body. If you’re experiencing burning or itching, ice your fever blister or suck on ice chips. To lessen any pain, you can take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Be mindful of the foods you eat when you have a fever blister, and avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, spicy food, or foods high in sodium.
If you are experiencing a lot of redness or irritation, try putting a cool, wet washcloth over your fever blister for 5-10 minutes a few times a day.
There’s a good chance your lips will begin to feel dry, so you’ll want to keep your lips moisturized by applying lip balm or lip cream.
Last but not least, if your skin is getting dry, gently apply a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the fever blister and the surrounding area.
When Do I Contact My Doctor?
Most fever blisters heal on their own, but if you still have them after a month or they are accompanied by eye sores or other troubling symptoms, contact your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe Valtrex, Zovirax, Denavir, or Famciclovir.