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March 26th, 2009
12:57 PM ET

Is a cold sore always permanent?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Kaley, Tucson, Arizona

“Dr. Gupta,

My roommate has been getting cold sores around her mouth since she was a little girl. I have never had one until very recently. Is it true that once you get a cold sores, you’ll get them for the rest of your life? What can I do to avoid getting another one? Thanks.”

Answer:

Hi Kaley. Thanks for writing in. Cold sores – also known as fever blisters – are highly contagious. The virus can live on towels, razors, cooking utensils, cups among other everyday household places. So you can imagine how easy it is to pass to a roommate, as in your situation, or to a family member.

Fever blisters are the result of virus known as herpes simplex virus one (HSV-1). While the thought of the virus infecting your body may seem really serious, its actually relatively harmless and quite common. Eight in 10 Americans are HSV-1 carriers, according to the National Institutes of Health.

There is no currently no cure for cold sores. Once you have the virus, you have it for life. HSV-1 moves around your body and “sleeps” in your nerves cells until something triggers it to “wake up.” The virus will then move to the surface. Some people will go years without having an infection, while other people will experience them frequently.

You can limit your overall risk by identifying what triggers your cold sores. The most common reasons are exposure to the sun, stress, a low immune system or toothache. Even certain foods can be the trigger.

Some believe foods such as olive oil, citrus fruits, sea salt, garlic, asparagus as well as  soft drinks and chocolate can trigger a cold sore.   If your cold sore already is already formed, some of these foods may aggravate the infection. The best thing to do is eat a balance of these foods. Eating or drinking any of these items from time to time is not problematic, just be mindful of the triggers and eat a balanced diet.

And it’s worth noting that your body will give you warning signals when the cold sore is on the way. The infected area will feel warm, tingling, perhaps even itchy up to two full days before you see the physical signs. If you begin treatment during this early stage, you’ll limit the severity of the outbreak.

When the small red blisters bumps begin to surface on your lip, or corner of your mouth, it’s critical to not touch the area at all. This is most contagious stage and the fluid in those bumps will infect other areas of your body and the people around you.

The best treatment option in the early stages is a prescription antiviral medication. These come in pill or ointment form and will help limit the growth of the virus. There are some ointments to help relieve the pain and itchy senstations available over the counter. People often get relieve from a cool compress on the area for about 20 minutes.

So Kaley, although cold sores are often a nuisance phyiscally, there are several ways to limit the frequency or severity of a potential outbreak. Your doctor can help determin the best treatment option for you.


soundoff (74 Responses)
  1. Toria!

    Hi.. My little cousin has had cold sores for most of her life, and when ever she was around me with an outbreak I always forgot not to give her smooches or share my water or something with her, but I never got a cold sore.. However more recently, I may have made out a little with a guy who had one, but I figured since I didn't get one from my little cousin that I wouldn't get one. But that was maybe two weeks ago and I noticed yesterday a pimple on the corner of my mouth then I woke up this morning with an irritated dry spot in the spot where the pimple was.. What I'm asking is, if I've never had a cold sore before, do I have one now?

    November 22, 2013 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SHAMARA TAYLOR

      I can’t believe my genitial herpes is really cured, oh is by this time last year I start feeling bad about my life, I feel pain everyday of my life am very happy now that am really cured I couldnt have do this on my own I wish is not God that help me with my helper I was searching the internet about this sickness last 3month when I found about great doctor unuareghe, the man that keep his words I write the man email about my problem immediately I get a reply from him asking me to fill a form which I immediately did and send back to him after some mins he reply me that he have work on my cure that I need to provide some materials, which can enable him to work on my cure which I did on the next day of it, after some hours he inform me that he have getting the things needed for the cure and he is about to go on with the curing spell he called me again after 50mins that he is done with the cure that I should check my body and also go for test I cant believe I was negative, a big thanks to him am very happy now with my family you can also get your self cured too from this sickness by contact him through his email dr.unuareghecuringhome@gmail.com

      July 29, 2016 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
  2. Kyle

    It's worth mentioning that Arginine is an amino acid you want to stay away from when it comes to cold sores, so nuts, chocolate, seeds etc.

    Lysine however, gets lots of it through milk, white meat and supplements.

    March 16, 2014 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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  8. hilary

    Cold sores are nothing new to me. I remember getting them as a kid. I usually end up with a cold sore once a year and that's it. I have never had more than one cold sore a year. I do not pop them and I use abreva, lysine, and other remedies and it usually goes away after 5 or so days. I am 23 now and I had recently got a cold sore after a really nasty cold. Well, 2 weeks after the "first" cold sore I woke up this morning with a cold sore on the opposite side if my lip. I didn't even have your usual "warning signs" that you usually get before a cold sore appears. I'm not sure why I ended up with another cold sore. I hate them so much and I feel like everyone stares at it when I have one. My husband thought it was because I didn't change my toothbrush after my last cold sore 2 weeks prior to this new cold sore. Can not changing my toothbrush when I previously just had a cold sore cause a new one to appear ? I just hate cold sores and I wish their was a cure to forever get rid of cold sores.

    September 7, 2016 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 20, 2017 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.