If you’ve ever looked in the mirror and saw a pimple-looking dot on your mouth that hurts a lot, you’re not alone — but it’s not always something as simple as a blemish. The inflamed bump may be a cold sore, which is super familiar. (Right now, about 50 to 80 percent of Americans have been exposed to the virus.) And because there is currently no cure for the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), once you are infected the virus remains in your system for life, says Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist and co-host of the show The Doctors. We tapped the experts to find out how to soothe, treat, and prevent cold sore flare-ups.
How to Spot Them
Cold sores might get confused with pimples, ingrown hairs, and canker sores, but they’re easy to spot once you realize what the symptoms are and how they differ. A cold sore will often appear outside the mouth on the skin of the lip, rather than inside (like a canker sore), and it’ll resemble a small cluster of white blisters, rather than a singular dot, says Batra. And pimples tend to have a central white plug whereas cold sores do not, Agrawal adds.
How to Treat Them
Realize that cold sores are contagious until they are entirely gone. “It is thought that cold sores are less contagious once they scab over, but you are still contagious until they go away completely, which typically takes about two weeks,” says Batra.
How to Prevent Them
Cold sores tend to recur when the immune system is relatively weak, like when you have a terrible cold. “To reduce their frequency, support the immune system with healthy habits including adequate sleep, exercise, and stress minimization,” says Batra.