Cold sores


Know the basics

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are small and painful blisters that usually appear on or around a person’s lips. The skin around the blisters is often red, swollen, and sore. It is caused by herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1). Sometimes, they also show up be inside the mouth, on the face, or even inside or on the nose. These places are the most common, but sores can appear anywhere on the body, including the genital area. They usually heal in several days to 2 weeks.

How common are cold sores?

It is said that there is almost 90 % of adults have been infected with the herpes simplex virus at some time. Although most of these people would not have experienced symptoms from the first infection, one-third of infected people experience cold sores, which are a recurrence of the earlier infection and do not indicate recent infection.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of cold sores?

For the first time to start treatment, you can feel a tingling or a burning sensation on your lips, face several days before a cold sore develops. Once the sore forms, you’ll see a raised, red blister full of fluid. Usually, it will be painful and tender to the touch. There may be more than one sore present.

The cold sore will remain for up to two weeks and will be contagious until it crusts over. Your first cold sore may not appear for up to 20 days after you contract the herpes simplex virus.

Then, you may also experience one or more of the following symptoms during an outbreak:

  • Fever;
  • Painful eroded gums;
  • A sore throat;
  • Headache;
  • Muscle aches;
  • Swollen lymph nodes.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you develop any eye symptoms during a cold sore outbreak, you should call your doctor immediately. Infections caused by the herpes simplex virus can lead to permanent vision loss when they’re not treated promptly.

Know the causes

What causes cold sores?

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the main reason causes cold sores. There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth.

They are easy to spread. The virus usually spreads when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid such as from sharing eating utensils or razors, kissing an infected person, or touching that person’s saliva. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to his or her child in this way. Besides, cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for cold sores?

There are many risk factors for this condition, such as:

  • Infection, fever, or a cold;
  • Sun exposure;
  • Stress;
  • HIV/AIDS or a weakened immune system;
  • Menstruation;
  • Severe burns;
  • Eczema;
  • Chemotherapy;
  • Dental work.

You’re at risk of getting a cold sore if you come in contact with the fluid of a cold sore through kissing, sharing foods or drinks, or sharing personal care items such as toothbrushes and razors. If you come in contact with the saliva of someone who has the virus, you can get the virus, even if there are no visible blisters.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are cold sores diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose cold sores just by looking at them. To confirm the diagnosis, he or she may take a sample from the blister for testing in a laboratory.

How are cold sores treated?

There’s no cure for cold sores, but some people with the herpes simplex virus rarely have outbreaks. When cold sores do develop, there are several ways to treat them.

Ointments and creams

You can control pain and promote healing with antiviral ointments, such as penciclovir (Denavir). Ointments tend to be most effective if they’re applied as soon as first signs of a sore appear (4-5 times per day for four to five days).

Docosanol (Abreva) is an over-the-counter cream that can shorten an outbreak by anywhere from a few hours to a day. The cream must be applied several times per day.


Your doctor may instruct you to take antiviral medications (such as acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir) regularly if you’re experiencing complications with cold sores or if your outbreaks are frequent.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cold sores?

To help avoid spreading cold sores to other people or to other parts of your body, you might try some of the following precautions:

  • While blisters are present, it is better to avoid skin contact with others.
  • Avoid sharing items like utensils, towels, lip balm and other items can spread the virus when blisters are present.
  • Wash your hands clean.

To reduce the symptoms, you should:

  • Apply ice or washcloths soaked in cold water over the sores.
  • Using lemon extract lip balm.
  • Apply aloe vera gel or aloe vera lip balm to a blister (3 times a day).

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.