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Ninety percent of all people have had or will have a cold sore at some point in their life, and 40 percent of adults have repeated cold sores throughout their life. While cold sores are viewed as more “annoying” than anything else, it is important to understand what causes cold sores and how they can be treated before they turn into a problem that’s too big to handle.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are a strain of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). They may infect any part of your body, but are most commonly found in the mouth, lips, and nose. The sores are contagious and usually last anywhere from 5-10 days.

While cold sores are not necessarily a “serious” disease, if not taken care of, it can turn into a full-blown infection. For those whose immune systems are down, a cold sore could be the difference between life and death if not treated in time.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores can be transmitted in forms of contact like kissing, and in sharing a drink, utensils, towels, or razors with someone who currently has a cold sore.

Sores may not always be visible right away — they can take up to 20 days from exposure to the virus to become visible.

How will I know if I have a cold sore?

Some symptoms of cold sores include, but are not limited to:

  • Fluid-filled blisters that are painful, red, burning, or itching
  • Swollen, sensitive gums
  • Deep red-colored gums

Make sure to call your doctor if you experience a high fever or chills or if your sores start to spread.