A cold sore isn’t like a pimple that you can just pop anytime. While pimples indicate that you may have a skin or hormonal problem, cold sores, on the one hand, indicate that you have a sexually transmitted disease.
Cold sores, which are also sometimes referred to as fever blisters, are caused by the herpes simplex virus which is present in the fluid inside cold sores. The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is actually very contagious. So if you pop a cold sore and the fluid inside it leaks out, you’re basically giving the virus an opportunity to spread.
What Are Cold Sores?
The most common manifestation of oral herpes, cold sores are typically due to infection with HSV-1, although there are times when HSV-2 can also cause herpes blisters to form inside or around your mouth, lips, cheek, nose, and chin.
When you contract HSV-1 and the virus becomes active, it causes these blisters to form on your skin. At times, only a single sore appears. Most of the time, however, when you get a cold sore outbreak, the blisters grow in a cluster.
In terms of appearance, a cold sore is usually quite small, and it may start off looking like a pimple or tiny bump. Then it will grow and become filled with yellowish or clear fluid. It usually takes several days before cold sores pop and breaks open.
Once they do, the fluid inside the blisters will start to seep out. Because of this, cold sores are sometimes described as weepy. The next phase of a cold sore outbreak involves the formation of a crust or scab over the sores. Eventually, the crust will fall off and the sores will disappear. An outbreak may last several days up to two weeks.
Are There Other Symptoms to Watch Out For?
The first sign of a cold sore outbreak is called a prodrome. It refers to that tingling or itching feeling that you experience on the part of your body where the fever blisters are about to appear. Whether it’s oral or genital herpes, you’ll experience a prodrome right before the blisters form.
As you continue to experience recurring outbreaks, you’ll learn to recognize the warning signs of a prodrome. If you already have prescription oral medications for herpes on hand, the best time to take them is when you start to feel that burning sensation. Doing so may be helpful in shortening the duration of the outbreak, or even completely stop it.
Aside from the prodrome, you may also experience fever, muscle aches, headaches, pain, and swollen lymph nodes. These are also common symptoms of a cold sore outbreak. If it’s your first-ever outbreak, these symptoms may be severe, and you might suffer a lot of pain. Typically, though, recurring outbreaks cause symptoms that are less severe.
How Is Herpes Spread?
There are times when the herpes virus is active but it doesn’t cause blisters or cold sores to appear. Such instances are referred to as asymptomatic shedding. The risks of transmitting the herpes virus are actually the highest when you’re going through asymptomatic shedding.
That’s because the virus is active and you’re actually shedding or releasing the virus. You’re probably unaware that it’s happening since there are no symptoms, so you would have no way of knowing that you’re supposed to take precautions.
Both type 1 and type 2 herpes simplex viruses are easily transmitted through skin to skin contact. When the herpes virus causes blisters to form in your genital area, you can spread the virus through skin-to-skin rubbing during sexual intercourse.
When the blisters are on your lips or inside your mouth, even just kissing another person can cause the virus to spread. You can transmit the virus through any action that will cause the part of your body where the fever blisters are to come into direct skin contact with someone else.
This means that if someone kisses you on the lips when you have cold sores, they are likely to contract the virus as well if they don’t have it already. If your partner is also HSV-1 positive, you may still want to refrain from kissing each other when either of you is going through a cold sore outbreak.
If you both have the virus already, kissing your partner at a time when you have cold sores may just trigger a cold sore outbreak for your partner. So even if you’re both HSV-1 positive, you should still minimize skin-to-skin contact during an outbreak.
Don’t Pop A Cold Sore
Aside from kissing, another thing that you should avoid doing during an outbreak is popping a cold sore. Remember that the herpes virus is present in the fluid inside your cold sores. So if you pop a sore open, you’re just allowing the virus to spread.
Even if you’re all alone when you pop a cold sore, it’s still not recommended. You can actually end up spreading the herpes virus to another part of your body when you break a blister open. If you do that, your fingers will come into contact with the fluid inside your cold sores, which means that your fingers become exposed to the virus.
Just because oral herpes and genital herpes are the most well-known forms of HSV infection doesn’t mean that fever blisters won’t grow on any other parts of your body. Fever blisters may also appear on your fingers, and even on the fleshy area surrounding your nails.
If you accidentally popped a cold sore and then immediately touched another part of your body like your eyes, you run the risk of developing oral herpes or herpes keratitis. Whereas cold sores don’t pose serious risks for your health when they’re just on your lips, fever blisters forming in your eyes can actually lead to serious damage.
When cold sores form just on the surface of your cornea, they can cause your cornea to tear, resulting in problems with your eyesight. If the fever blisters form deeper inside your cornea, however, the damage to your eyesight can be severe and it can even lead to vision loss.