An infection of herpes zoster virus (HZV) causes sores, called fever blisters. They are commonly known as cold sores. They are characterized by painful and eruptive fluid-filled blisters. They are highly contagious; the virus spreads from one infected person to another through the direct skin contact, or fluid from the erupted blisters.
Many times, people confuse these blisters with canker sores, as both occur in close proximity with each other. Unlike fever blisters, canker sores are caused by bacterial infection. Canker sores are non-contagious, and develop inside the mouth.
There are two types of herpes zoster virus, type 1 (HZV-1) and type 2 (HZV-2). Though both types have the potential to cause these blisters, more than 90 percent cases are caused by HZV-1. As per statistics, about 60 - 80 percent people carry this virus in the nerves cells of the face, and 90 percent people above 50 years are infected by HZV-1. The symptoms occur among 15 - 20 percent of people infected with HZV-1.
In general, these blisters develop in the gums, mouth, and skin of the lips, and around the mouth. Other noticeable symptoms are fever, enlarged lymph nodes (especially those present in the neck), and generalized body ache. It is common to have recurrent fever blisters after the initial outbreak of HZV. Some of the triggering factors for recurrence are fever, illnesses, stress, sunlight exposure, fatigue, infections, cold, allergies, skin trauma in the mouth area, and a weakened immune system.
The duration of fever blister outbreak lasts for about 9 - 12 days. There are five successive stages of fever blister, which are outlined as follows:
- Prodrome stage (Day1 - 2): After infection and/or activation of HZV, the infected individual experiences tingling, itching, and burning sensation in and around the mouth area.
- Blister stage (Day 2 - 3): Within 1 - 2 days, fluid-filled blisters develop in the infected areas.
- Weeping stage (Day 4 - 5): In the next 2 - 3 days, the blisters undergo ulceration or rupture, leading to formation of open sores. This ulcer or weeping stage is the most painful and contagious stage.
- Crusting stage (Day 5 - 8): The blisters dry and crust over, which is known as crusting stage. The crusts or scabs so formed fall off eventually.
- Healing stage (Day 9 - 12): The last stage is the healing stage in which scabs flake off, healing the sores without scarring the skin tissue.
These blisters can be treated by following certain medications under the medical supervision. In case of first outbreak, it is essential to administer oral medications along with the topical ointments. Nevertheless, there are several home remedies that are effective for managing the symptoms and shortening the course of recurrent outbreaks.
» Ice Packs
Applying ice packs over the blisters provides soothing effect. Blister development can be prevented by the application of ice packs for about 5 - 10 minutes every hour in the prodrome stage.
» Tea Bags
One of the simple home remedies is application of tea bags to the infected areas. Tannic acid present in the tea has an antiviral property, which helps in preventing further development of these blisters.
» Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is another effective home remedy. Cut an aloe vera leaf lengthwise and remove the sap by using a spoon. Apply this aloe vera sap to the affected skin areas.
Honey, due to its natural antiviral property, is very effective in healing these blisters. Apply honey directly over the blisters regularly, in order to shorten the duration of the blisters.
Foods that contain vitamin B complex and folic acid should be included in the diet plan. On the contrary, foods rich in arginine such as chocolate, nuts, peanuts, oatmeal, and whole grains should be minimized. One should avoid coffee, spicy, and salty foods during the course of fever blisters.
In addition to these remedies, it is advisable to follow personal hygiene in order to prevent further spreading of the virus to other body parts. One should not share towels, toothbrush, cups, utensils, and other items that may have direct contact with the mouth. Use of sunscreen on the face and mouth helps in preventing recurrent outbreaks. Regular hand washing is recommended, especially after touching the blisters.