What Causes Fever Blisters?

Fever blisters are also known as cold sores. They are a small group of blisters located on the lip or around the mouth. The skin around the blisters is usually red, swollen and sore. Fever blisters also appear on the chin, cheeks and even inside the nostrils, while less frequently they can appear also on the gums or the roof of the mouth. A clear fluid leaks while the blisters break. After a few days, they tend to scab over. Fever blisters will require several days and up to two weeks to heal. They can't be prevented and there is no cure for them, either. However, with certain steps their frequency and duration can be reduced.

What Causes Fever Blisters?

Fever blisters are caused by an infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV), usually the HSV type 1. There are two types of HSV, type 1 and 2, and both of them can cause sores around the mouth or the genital area. The herpes simplex virus enters the human body through a break in the skin around or inside of the mouth. It can spread from one person to another when sharing towels, razors, eating utensils or by kissing an infected person. Oral sex spreads the HSV 2 from the genital area to the lips and the HSV 1 from the lips to the genital area.

Fever blisters are highly contagious when the blisters are oozing, but the virus can be transmitted to others even if there are no blisters at all. In many cases, infected people never develop signs and symptoms of the infection. Once you're infected with herpes simplex virus, the virus remains dormant in the nerve cells of the skin and can reactivate at the same place as before. The recurrence of fever blisters is triggered by stress, fatigue, a fever, viral infection or even from any hormonal changes in women, as well as from an exposure to sunlight or wind.

How to Manage Fever Blisters

Fever blisters tend to resolve on their own within two to four weeks even without treatment. However, treatment can help reduce their recurrence, speed up the healing process, stop them from spreading and even ease the pain.

1. Monitor and Treat the Fever

What causes fever blisters? Is there a fever accompanied with fever blisters? Yes, fever blisters are often accompanied with fever. Fever is especially common among young children. It should be closely monitored, especially in younger children, and medications to reduce the fever like acetaminophen are recommended. Lukewarm baths, as well as compresses, might also help fight the fever.

2. Relieve the Pain

Over-the-counter painkillers are often recommended when trying to ease the pain accompanied with fever blisters. Topic fever blister creams are also recommended. Parents should be careful when treating the pain among young children. Aspirin should be avoided as there is always the possibility of a life threatening complication known as Reye's syndrome.

3. Use Ice Pack

Ice packs are a good thing when trying to relieve the pain caused by fever blisters. They also tend to create an inhospitable environment for the herpes simplex virus. But it is not recommended to leave them for longer than 10–15 minutes.

4. Licorice for Fever Blisters

Licorice has been shown to reduce the fever blisters and it also tends to shorten their healing process. Licorice should be consumed regularly or even licorice supplements are recommended.

5. Lysine for Fever Blisters

Lysine is normally found in the cheese, yogurt, milk and other dairy products. It tends to combat the primary protein in the herpes simplex virus which causes fever blisters. Try to consume dairy products as much as possible.

6. No Arginine

Arginine is an amino acid commonly found in chocolates, peas, cereals, peanuts, beer or cola. It tends to increase the risk of fever blisters, their frequency, and their severity. In cases of recurrent and frequent fever blisters, try to avoid these foods.

7. No Stress

What causes fever blisters? Does stress cause fever blisters? Yes, stress is believed to increase the likelihood for fever blisters. In order to prevent future fever blisters outbreak, you should try to avoid stress as much as possible. Different relaxation techniques work on different people. Try to take a warm bath, go for a long walk, swim, read a book, or listen to music. Anything that works for you is fine.

8. Oral Antiviral Medications

Acyclovir, Famciclovir, or Penciclovir are antiviral medications recommended when treating fever blisters. These medications taken orally in most of the cases tend to treat and reduce the outbreaks of infections with herpes simplex virus and fever blisters. These medications are most effective when started as soon as the first signs and symptoms appear.

9. Tea Tree Oil for Fever Blisters

Tea tree oil is used as a topical treatment for fever blisters. It will help heal them faster once fever blisters appear.

10. Use Vaseline

When used topically, Vaseline can help prevent the infection from getting worse. It can also prevent any secondary bacterial infection of the affected area. Vaseline will help keep the fever blisters moist all the time. Make sure to wash your hands first, as bacteria from your hands and fingers can spread on the fever blisters.

11. Use Green Tea Bags

Green tea nutrients and antioxidants tend to soothe the fever blisters and help them heal faster. Make a cup of green tea and put the tea bag on the fever blisters after cooling.  

12. Use Topical Antiviral Medications

Topical antiviral medications like Docosanol or Tromantadine are recommended for the treatment of fever blisters. They tend to prevent their outbreak.

When to See a Doctor

What causes fever blisters? How to manage them? When to see a doctor? These are some of the things you may worry about. Fever blisters tend to resolve on their own even without treatment. However, you should seek medical help when:

  • Blisters don't resolve or improve within 7 to 10 days.
  • You get fever blisters very often.
  • You have another health condition that weakens your immune system.
  • You have any signs of a bacterial infection like pus, fever or spreading of the redness. 


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