After being exposed to the herpes simplex 1 virus for the first time, you may develop a blistering rash in the mouth that may be accompanied by a body-wide, flu-like illness. This first outbreak of cold sores is usually gone within 7-10 days, but can last up to 20 days.
After these initial symptoms, the virus may lie quietly in the nerves until it is reactivated, typically by stress or illness. Direct sunlight, a weakened immune system, and menstruation can also trigger reactivation. If reactivated, the virus will come out as a cold sore (fever blister). A few days before, you may notice some itching, burning, or pain in the area where the cold sore will appear.
Some people have outbreaks regularly, and some never have another after the initial infection.
The symptoms of an active cold sore are:
Small, painful, fluid-filled, red-rimmed blisters
After a few days, the blisters dry and form a scab
Scabs heal in about five days, usually without scarring or loss of sensation
Beers MH, Fletcher AJ, et al.
Merck Manual of Medical Information
. 2nd ed.
Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories; 2003.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
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