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The common cold sore is known as recurrent herpes labialis.

Cause - Herpes Virus. Most people have been exposed to this virus, but only a small percentage suffer from the recurrent outbreaks.

Characteristics - The recurrent form is usually found on the outer lip. Typically there is a period for a day or two prior to the outbreak where the person feels itching in the area the outbreak will occur. It takes a week or two to heal, and has a characteristic crusty appearance. Recurrent herpes can occur in the mouth as well. In a non immunocompromised person it is always found on the non-movable tissue of the mouth (gums and hard palate).

The initial infection with the virus is usually asymptomatic, but in some people it can be quite severe. It is known as Primary herpetic gingivostomatitis. The patient's mouth, gums, and throat are covered with painful ulcers. Lymph nodes swell, fever rises, and the person feels generally awful. Primary herpes is usually found in children and sometimes young adults. It is a self limiting syndrome taking from 10 - 14 days to heal. Zovirax can help speed recovery a bit in more severe cases.

Triggers - Trauma, sunburn, stress, illness, cold weather, and the like.

Treatment - Herpes outbreaks are typically self limiting, but some medications can help speed up the healing process. laser treatment can give immediate pain relief and the lesion will heal in 24-72 hours. The laser treatment can be done as soon as you feel the tingling sensation. It takes 90 seconds and can be repeated untill no tingling sensation remains. Cold sores can also be treated at the blister stage as well. An antiviral ointment, Denavir, can help speed healing of lesions. Low doses of Zovirax have been shown to help prevent outbreaks, such as when someone will be in the sun. Avoiding triggers helps, such as wearing sun block and minimizing trauma to the lips. Lysine, an over the counter supplement, will reduce outbreaks in some people.

Another important thing to remember is that these lesions are contagious and one must practice good hygiene during attacks. In addition it is possible to infect other parts of your own body if good hygiene practices are not followed. Herpetic whitlow is a painful infection of the fingers and ocular herpes is an eye infection which can become quite severe, even leading to blindness. Do not play with the sores and wash your hands frequently during outbreaks.