A lip cold sore, a pimple, a canker sore, and chapped lips can all look the same near the mouth. But they respond best to different treatments, so it’s essential to identify them correctly. After all, they share one thing in common: They’re on your face. So you want them gone-stat.
The best way to get the right diagnosis is to visit your doctor or a pharmacist. But to save yourself from having to perform endless online searches (and weed through some brutal Google image results) right this minute, we asked the experts how to identify a cold sore-and how to treat it, or whatever else you might be obsessing over in the mirror.
ID it: The first thing you’ll notice is pain or burning in your lip. Next, small groups of fluid-filled blisters will form, usually on the outer border of one of your lips. Eventually these will pop, crust up, or form a yellowish scab, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital. The herpes simplex 1 virus is passed through direct contact, he says, so if you’ve never had a cold sore before, think back-have you recently kissed or shared a drink with someone with suspicious spots on their mouth?
Treat it: Applying an over-the-counter treatment at the first sign of symptoms can shorten healing time and ease issues like pain. If your outbreaks are severe or very frequent, though, Dr. Zeichner suggests asking your doctor about prescription antiviral creams or oral meds, which can ward off future flare-ups.