Understanding The Causes of Cold Sores: Explaining Oral Herpes


As a victim of cold sores or oral herpes, you may have experienced the discomforting presence of fluid-filled blisters near or around your mouth. This condition often leads to feelings of embarrassment and shame, a result of excessive stigma associated with the herpes virus. According to Dr. Chris Adigun, a board-certified dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, “People hear herpes and they immediately think of a highly stigmatized virus.”

The consequential impact of this stigma is significant. A study conducted by Compeed revealed that 28 percent of respondents refrained from leaving their homes due to a cold sore outbreak. Consequently, individuals with cold sores are hesitant to engage in intimate or social relationships, fearing rejection and stigmatization.

Understanding Cold Sores

According to Dr. Adigun, a cold sore is a reactivation of the herpes simplex virus, also known as herpes. The virus remains dormant in the body until it is triggered, leading to blister outbreaks. The primary culprits behind cold sores are classified as Type 1 (HSV-1), as stated by the World Health Organization.

Triggers for Cold Sores

The Mayo Clinic lists several common triggers for cold sores. Dr. Adigun notes that while some triggers are personal, febrile illness, high-stress situations, and UV exposure are common triggers for cold sores.

Herpes Virus Transmission

HSV-1 is transmitted through the saliva of an infected individual, often through activities like kissing or sharing cups and utensils. Dr. Adigun affirms that most Americans are exposed to the virus in early childhood.

Herpes shedding occurs during an active cold sore outbreak, contributing to widespread prevalence. Therefore, despite the stigma associated with cold sores, it is essential to acknowledge its commonality, according to Dr. Adigun.

Don’t let the shame surrounding cold sores define your experience. The virus is incredibly prevalent, affecting a large percentage of the U.S. population. So rather than feeling ashamed, embrace the reality that you are part of the norm, not an anomaly.

“This is the American experience,” she adds.

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