Herpes labialis, also known as cold sores, is a type of infection by the herpes simplex virus that affects primarily the lip. Symptoms typically include a burning pain followed by small blisters or sores. The first attack may also be accompanied by fever, sore throat, and enlarged lymph nodes. The rash usually heals within 10 days, but the virus remains dormant in the facial nerve. The virus may periodically reactivate to create another outbreak of sores in the mouth or lip.
The cause is usually herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and occasionally herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). The infection is typically spread between people by direct non-sexual contact. Attacks can be triggered by sunlight, fever, psychological stress, or a menstrual period. Direct contact with the genitals can result in genital herpes. Diagnosis is usually based on symptoms but can be confirmed with specific testing.
Prevention includes avoiding kissing or using the personal items of a person who is infected. A zinc oxide, anesthetic, or antiviral cream appears to decrease the duration of symptoms by a small amount. Antiviral medications may also decrease the frequency of outbreaks.