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Cold sores

We all hate ‘cold sores’, because they are so ugly and noticeable. Cold sores start as tiny blisters on or near the lips. A cold sore is usually gone within a week or two, but is really upsetting while it lasts.

How do you know if you have a cold sore?

  • The first sign is a burning, tingling or itching feeling in the skin where the cold sore will erupt. If you have had a cold sore before, you will recognize this feeling as soon as it starts.
  • The tingling lasts for about 6 hours. Then you will notice a group of tiny blisters (usually 3–5) with some reddish swelling of the skin around them.
  • After a day or two, the blisters become an open sore. This is the start of the ugly stage.
  • Within a further day or two, a scabby crust forms over the sore.
  • The sore gradually heals, and is gone about 7–10 days after it started.

Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Wednesday, November 2nd 2011

 


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Comments on this article

Posted by Andi on 28/01/2016 at 05:05

just found virasooth seems to help with coldsores and can be bought from boots chemist but not yet tried this... also I have just tried putting ice on mine as burning and throbbing and cant find my zovirax and it did help a bit. hoping this helps somebody else.xx

Posted by Optional on 22/11/2015 at 02:19

I get cold sores about once a year, and usually they go away in about 5 days, however I have one now that has been on my lip for 7 days and it is an awful scab that keeps breaking open. I am not sure what to do, should I keep it moisturized or dry?

Posted by Optional on 21/01/2015 at 11:29

Have a cold sore . My mouth feel it on fire cause it super red.what can I do to get rid of the redness

Posted by Dainelle on 14/01/2015 at 09:10

1 week ago I got a red patch on my bottom lip I ignored it and thought it is just a small cold sore. But my concerns increased when it started getting green patches soon it turned into a dark plauqe. Please help me!!!! is there anyone who can give me good advice????

Posted by Optional on 07/01/2015 at 06:40

I put herpeclin on my cold sore but it got itchy and i scratched the area around it...not touching the cold sore itself. Then i forgot to wash my hands after and a few minutes later i scratched some areas on my face that were itchy, can it spread this way? I'm really worried!

Posted by Optional on 04/01/2015 at 02:56

I found by taking 1000 mgs of Vitamin D per day or more and applying Aloe Vera directly from the plant onto the cold sore helps eliminate it quickly!

Posted by Optional on 29/11/2014 at 11:36

what do I do when there's white gooey stuff on it, I'm scared if I pick on it that it'll get worse. I've had it for about a week

Posted by Desperate on 22/11/2014 at 02:18

I've never had a cold soar in my life nor do I know anyone that has one. However, today I felt a tingly and burning feeling under my lip. I looked under my lip and there was a tiny bump. The burning and tingly sensation stopped after a minute but the bump is still there. It is also the color of my skin. I never share drinks with people or kissed anyone. Help!

Posted by Optional on 28/10/2014 at 10:50

A few days ago, i woke up with that horribile ichy feeling on my lip. Like i always do, i splattered on some cream right away. After a few houres tree big blisters on diffrent parts of my mouth broke through. This moring i woke up with very swollen lips, witch makes it very hard to talk or drink. It feels horrible and i know it looks pretty ugly, does anyone know how to make the swelling go away? I've tryed ice, but the swelling is still there. Help.

Posted by Optional on 20/07/2014 at 11:51

I have a start of a coldsore it is a small red lump on my lip it hasnt crusted but I noticed my little girl has a red mark on her bottom lip, she kisses me goodnight every night and im concerned about this. Once the red marks go will we be ok to kiss goodnight again or will we just keep passing it on. I noticed my other little girls top lip looks to be a little red too what should I do? Ive read all sorts of things about how dangerous it is in children but what if they don't blister and they just go. I want to be able to give my girls goodnight kisses.

Posted by Esther on 05/07/2014 at 07:12

I had a cold sore on the 7th of June, it was gone 2 weeks later. It's now the 5th of July and my lip has been tingling this whole time. Is this normal? I've only had 5 cold sores in my life time.

Posted by Optional on 15/06/2014 at 01:55

I have a cold sore scab, before the scab i popped all the puss put and it was bloody then turned intona scab the next day i put neosporin and blistex throughout the day and it improved my scabbed cold sore. I had oral intercourse with my scabbed cold sore and I'm scared I gave genital herpes to my partner who already gets cold sores but did have a cold sore at this time. Is it most likely my partner will get genital herpes?

Posted by Optional on 12/06/2014 at 04:31

I just posted, yesterday that I had the cut lip, well it is now today, and my lip is swollen again and I have 3tiny blisters on the side of my lip, last night I realized I had shared a bottled water with a friend on Sunday, she had a cold sore, like it was a tiny scab, I thought nothing of it. I am a mother of a two year old and I have a boyfriend of three years. I'm also devastated. :( I'm certainly afraid that I posed risk of infection to my two year old and my boyfriend these last few days, I shared utensils, kissed... :( I feel really horrible! I have never had a cold sore, and yesterday I experienced tingling hot burning sensation on my lip, and I did all those things not knowing the risk I posed... Last night I spent the evening googling, most contagious stages of HSV1.. I'll have to wait it out.. Today im going to the doctors and I'm going to be getting blood tests done.... I feel like I'm going crazy, disinfecting everything in my home, crying and constantly washing everything. I feel really really horrible... Yesterday I was experiencing the tingling and I guess first signs of an outbreak... The part that's hurts most is potentially infecting my daughter had boyfriend yesterday or even a few days ago.... I can't live with my self if I infected them... :'(

Posted by Optional on 12/06/2014 at 04:37

A few days ago I had a cut lip then it swelled up for two days, I used salt and warm water to disinfect my cut lip, now the swelling has went down, but today I rinsed my lip again with salt warm water and I noticed a tiny blister and I popped it, clear liquid, and now the part where I got it cut, is now like warm, hot feeling. I have no idea how this is happening, all I'm searching is saying it's herpes/cold sores/fever blisters... I have one partner, and I've had the same partner for 3years... I'm getting really stressed out! The cUT part of my lip has a green tinge, when it's dry (part I cut, like a dead skin scab) but when I rinse with salt warm water the cut part goes white, but next to that cut is hot and I found a tiny blister!! Any help or advice would be good!! Time from cut lip to today I found out the tiny tiny blister 4 DAYS

Posted by Optional on 28/05/2014 at 02:17

Important information on cold sores which seems to be missing from this site: Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus - the same family as shingles and chicken-pox: it's a virus. - They're very, very contagious - wash your hands after touching / treating them: no-one likes a 'Typhoid Mary' - Other people can catch your cold sores if you share face-flannels, towels, crockery, glassware, cutlery etc. with them. - They can spread via touch to different areas of your or another person's body (including eyes and genitals). - They are usually for life once you've got them - the sore will vanish, but you will likely see them in the same place again. - If they come up on your mouth, then your saliva is also contagious: do not kiss people even when wearing the world's most useless invention, AKA the 'cold sore plaster'. - Cold sores are a nuisance to children and grown-ups generally, but can be very serious indeed in new born babies. Treat the affected area as soon as you pick up on the distinctive tingle - if you get your AV cream / tablets / light-treatment-stick into action quickly when the tingle starts then you've got at least a 75% chance of staving off the emerging cold-sore. Using light therapy will dramatically reduce the healing time once the blisters have appeared - in the UK you can get 'light sticks' for cold sore treatment from Boots. If your coldsores have stopped responding to acyclovir anti-viral cream, then move to penciclovir anti-viral cream (over the counter on on prescription). If they come up in your soft-palette then get yourself to the GP and they'll issue a course of acyclovir anti-viral tablets.

Posted by Optionalamonpus on 28/05/2014 at 10:39

I had oral sex from my partner and gave it back I had no cold sore at the time or symptoms as I so get them sometimes a few hours later it started to tingle n next day had a coldsore would I has infected my partner ??

Posted by Optional on 28/05/2014 at 07:19

I think I have a cold sore but I've never had sex or done anything like that or kissed anyone besides my parents it started as a tiny bump and I tried to scratch it off and now it's red and hurts help I'm really scared

Posted by Optional on 19/01/2014 at 11:25

I have a well whatever it is in the corner of my mouth on the outside... I never had the tingling or burning sensation. I cant think of anywhere were I could of got it.. It doesnt hurt to touch only when I open my mouth wide because its taring it. At first I thought it was a pimple because I had one there like a year ago and it was a pimple because I popped it. Ive had this for maybe 2 or 3 days now.. I have no clue what it is.. HELP??

Posted by chloe3103 on 01/09/2013 at 08:03

I have two clod sores but the one on my lip has come up as a bubble I don't know what I should do there is like pink stuff in side it I don't know if I should i pop it I am not sure please help it hurts alot

Posted by Optional on 27/04/2012 at 08:10

i had cold sore and now around my lips is dark and dry so i wnt to the doctors and i got a cream the cold sore went but i still have ablack stuff around my lips and it looks likea moutsatch and it so embarassing

Posted by Optional on 31/03/2012 at 04:36

I used to get these alot, but I now have a perfect remedy...I pierce the blister as soon as it appears and apply Melaleuca Oil and Abreva...it stops it from spreading or swelling and the healing process is barely visible...it's completely gone in 3 days without being noticeable to anyone except me.

Posted by Mother of a two year old on 02/01/2012 at 04:00

I came into contact with a friend with a scabbed cold sore (we hugged and our faces touched). I then developed the tingling, in my lip and under, like something was trying to get out from under my skin. I had burning and a little bump appeared. 12 days later and the bumps have increased and my whole inner lip is burning. Not a lot but enough. I am worried I spread the virus to the rest of my lips through rubbing balms etc all over it. Is this possible? I have a two year old so am quite devastated. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Posted by Md. Eusuf Shah on 11/10/2011 at 04:54

Ive had this cold sore for only 3 days. Luckily I caught this one early and immediately started treating it with Abreva, rubbing alcohol, cleaning it with soap, etc. At first I could barely see and blisters at all but now I cant see any blisters, it just feels really dry and a little red, is the sore gone or is it still contagious?

Posted by ryan on 17/09/2011 at 12:54

im just in the scabbing stage of my cold sore but it looks like another cold sore is developing under it! is that possible?

Posted by justicesmom11 on 01/09/2011 at 07:01

They suck so much I got huge ones on each right side lip. I tried some home remedies but they didn't work just made it worse

Posted by Cassie on 01/07/2011 at 02:13

I' be never had a cold sore/fever blister ever. I was with a guy for 6-years he never had them. I've been single for the last Couple of years and just recently I have had two cold sore Breakouts. Can someone how I was able to get the cold Sore, I thought the only of getting it was from someone Else.

Posted by raid010 on 22/05/2011 at 10:21

I recently had my first coldsore and my girlfriend popped it on purpose. Six months later I have a terrible scar on my top lip. It's very visible and embarrassing. My question is will this scar ever go away or will I be scarred this way for the rest of my life?

Posted by Court on 25/02/2011 at 06:26

I'm 14 years old and I once had a really big, ugly cold sore in the corner of the left side of my mouth. It cleared up after 2 very long, embarrassing weeks, but even thought it was a long time ago, I am still slightly red in that area. Will it ever go away?

Posted by Optional on 18/02/2011 at 12:13

Definitely the natures own L-Lysine tablets r the best. I suffer from coldsores when I'm run down or stressed and as soon as I feel that first tingle I have 3-4 tablets straight away. Then I'll have 2, 3 times a day till gone. Most of the time they don't even blister up. And never scab.

Posted by Optional on 04/02/2011 at 12:16

Best thing is to stay healthy. Lower your weight. Keep in shape and your immunity stays up. I only get the thingly sensation when I feel at my lowest, health wise. Take a multi-vitamin e.g. Berroca ; plenty of vitamin C to help the immune system.

Posted by Cathy on 30/01/2011 at 03:34

I am a nurse and a cold sore sufferer. This goes against medicine becuase of the risk of infection but if you suffer from cold sores you want to minimize them. AS SOON AS you see a tiny blister, pierce it carefully with a sterilized pin and soak up the clear liquid with a kleenex. It is a miniscule amount but you will see it on the kleenex. Once all the liquid is out it will not progress in size but start drying up at this small stage. You can hardly even see it. Please do this-it works and spread the word. Noone needs those big huge ugly things on their face and damn, they hurt.

Posted by Marie on 24/12/2010 at 05:06

hi um i dont think im catching a cold sore but this is my problem. i felt a tingly and itching sensation on and under my lip but nothing appeared for the fact i use blistex but above my lip its like either acne or something and everytime i pop one another one appears in another place and it starts to come its annoying because i never had this before. also that everytime i pop one it leaves a scar. im afraid. i took test a test and it sais that im negatve. do you think that its stress or something

Posted by so what does the 1st one look like? on 19/12/2010 at 01:08

ok so i was wondering if anyone can tell me what a cold sore is really meant to look like when its possibly the first one you ever have and it doesnt look like any of the pictures ive searched. its a light red patch of skin, next to-not on the mouth of my 4 year old son. he is complaining its sore and its been there for 2 days. its not lumpy or blistered, just a flat, smooth light red patch. what could it be? if it is a cold sore how long will i have to wait to see the obvious signs, so i will know that it is. or isnt! and if it is a cold sore will it definitely blister? any help apreciated. thank you

Posted by Optional on 15/12/2010 at 11:57

Have suffered from cold sores for years and have tried everything to no avail.However i had been getting the symptoms last week and rubbed a sliced lemon on my lip and it seems to have stopped the blister from appearing. I kept the lemon in the fridge and the coldness also stopped the swelling from worsening. Hopefully i have found something that works.

Posted by ROCK ON on 11/12/2010 at 09:53

WOW. I have a cold sore right now, 2 actually. I'm prone to them, and now I know how they come! I had itching at first. thanks !

Posted by Optional on 30/11/2010 at 07:45

although i dont have a cold sore now i have suffered cold sores in the past so if i give oral sex to a girl could she get genital herpes? even the i didnt have one at the time of oral sex

Posted by Optional on 10/11/2010 at 01:32

if i have a cold sore can i take valtrex or acyclovir if i don't have genital herpes?

Posted by Optional on 27/10/2010 at 11:45

wow im prety shocked that whoever thought it was self centered is a selfish idiot.as someone mentioned they are careful around their twins as its a horrible thing to have. not one person would choose to have these awful coldsores and inocent kids dont need painful and unsightly sores. i think you are one of the few idiots who want to make themself feel better about what they have- herpes, and its easy spread in children, especialy boys as they put their hands in their mouths and touch their genitals alot my boy constantly got his hand down there! just saying loadsa people suffer with them is not an excuse to knowingly give them to someone else. so you and the person who did it are both stupid and selfish

Posted by Optional on 24/10/2010 at 11:18

If anyone knowingly kissed my children with a cold sore I would be furious. I have a cold sore right now and I am very careful with my 6 year old twins who are always kissing and hugging me. They are painful and make you feel awful and I wouldn't want my children to catch the virus. I have just had a very nasty virus that lasted over 6 weeks which left me run down, so just to top it off my body thought, here's a great idea, you can have a cold sore. Awesome!

Posted by Optional on 24/10/2010 at 10:29

If you get frequent cold sores GET A PRESCRIPTION FOR VALTREX!!! Although advertised as pills for genital herpes, you can also get it for cold sores, as they are a form for the herpes complex virus. I've had cold sores for years, horrible ones, and as soon as my doctor put me on Valtrex the frequency was incredibly diminished. DO IT!

Posted by Optional on 24/10/2010 at 08:43

Has anyone here heard of Valtrex? Two pills immediately after the first signs of the cold sore and then one pill every 12 hours for two days will make the sore go away in about three days. It also alleviates the pain associated with the sore. Check out the valtrex website for more info. Much more effective than any ointment out there.

Posted by Optional on 19/10/2010 at 02:49

to the person below i think that is very self centred! its not a disease, loadsa people suffer with them! .. i used to suffer with them really bad, now its just the rare occurence :) i've been using cream prescibed by the doctor and it seems to be working well :)

Posted by Optional on 14/10/2010 at 01:14

my friend knowingly kissed my 9 month old baby and 4 year old when she had a cold sore that had scabbed over. she knows how i feel about her kissing my children which is to not kiss them at all. i am very ocd about this which is very good inmy opinion i have told her this before and she seems to have been ok about until i caught her kissing them both full on the mouth when i came back in the room. now shit scared they are going to get them. please help me. i have cried and cried about it i cant sleep at night. needless to say my friend is no longer my friend. what can i do, when will i know if they are going to get one. so so very angry and sad for my kids. kissing should not be allowed if you have them

Posted by Optional on 13/10/2010 at 06:04

Best thing is to pop it use some rubbing alcohol keep it dry use abreva or whatever doctor gives u. Healing will start. P.s dont let the puss touch any place of ure lip will spread. I'm 22 had them since grade school they make my life horible.

Posted by Optional on 11/10/2010 at 04:16

I always cut out fatty foods and eat loads of citrus fruits, and also take multi vitamin supplements. This seems to clear them up quite quickly. The patches that you can get to put over the sores help as they stop the visible signs of the cold sore.

Posted by Optional on 08/10/2010 at 09:37

Just had a cold - Next day cold sore. Always same time of year sep-nov when gets colder. a) when get a cold, double intake of vit C & vitaims (brocoli etc) b) wrap up warm c) get topical treatment on right away 5 times a day. d) soften lips using balm (excpet the sore!) e) watch the shower/bath when "scabs" start to go "soft" (errgh) easily removed which is sore hence "new scab" f) if theyre anywhere else on body, seek help from a DR for medicated pills to suppress the virus from a biological point of view. (more expensive than treatment, hence on prescription) e)

Posted by Optional on 06/09/2010 at 11:01

i thought the other day about coldsores and then i got one.how weird!

Posted by Optional on 31/07/2010 at 06:45

All you have to do is pierce the blister before it turns to an open sore with a sterilized pin. Then apply isopropyl alcohol with a cotton swab. It kills the sore instantly.

Posted by Optional on 13/07/2010 at 06:31

This site was really helpfull

Posted by Optional on 28/06/2010 at 05:28

i dont know if this happens to anyone else... but for some really waked out reason when ever i think about cold sores ill get one the next day, everytime!!!!

Posted by Optional on 06/06/2010 at 01:22

step by step pictures would be good :)

Posted by None on 04/06/2010 at 05:33

well, what i did was Take ice and hold it there for like 30 mins and then after i popped the little bumps with a STERILIZED pin. After i washed all the clear watery stuff off with water and then took APPLE CIDER VINEGAR and dipped a q-tip in it and put it on the sore ALOT. Then in the same day it started to scab. I did this yesterday i believe and now its just scabbing over. Hope i helped :)

Posted by Optional on 16/05/2010 at 06:43

having just found your site i have been thrilled at some of your information but find myself disappointed with your piece on cold sores.you make no mention of how they are contracted or what relation they have to the herps virus. if you had a cold sore u have them for life. a breakout can be brought on from illness like a cold or flu. or tiredness. anything that makes ur imuine system weak. even sun exposure or geting smacked in the lips can bring on a coldsore. the best way to avoid spreading them is to treat them like they are, a form of herps. dont touch, dont lick, dont kiss no one and heaven forbid do not perform oral because they can spread to downsouth. i am a user of abreva. my breakouts usually last 7 to 10 days but with abreva i can speed that up to about 4. and like all creams or ointments the sooner u use it the better it works. use a q-tip to avoid contaminating the tube and a little goes a long way. theyre unpleastent and downright painfull. but they dont last forever. hope this info was helpful to someone out

Posted by Anonymous on 16/05/2010 at 04:08

I get coldsores at least 6-8 times a year and i fing the best thing is to burst the blisters by rolling a cotton bud over the blister and wiping the pus away. it hurts a lot. but i find that after 1 day it scabs and goes after a few days. also those compeed coldsore patches are good to wear at night coz they stop it spreading and catching it in the night.

Posted by Karla on 02/05/2010 at 10:50

Hello, my BF has a cold sore, it did no have the tiny ulcers, it was just a big one when it erupted, I am afraid, because I accidentally used his spoon yesterday, and he had an open wound on the lip, what are the chances of me catching the virus?

Posted by Optional on 30/04/2010 at 12:08

Go online and order Viramedex Releev ointment from the States. It costs about £15 for a small bottle but clears up cold sores within a few days and will last a couple of years. For some reason (probably because UK drug companies complain that they will lose profit on useless things such as Zovirex)you can't buy it in UK.

Posted by fed up on 07/04/2010 at 02:31

i always get the dam things when im run down,now on my nose ggrrrrrrrrrrrrr... zoverax is gd if you get the sore quick......................

Posted by Michael Gell on 28/03/2010 at 04:04

I hate cold sores

Posted by Joe on 18/03/2010 at 08:54

Coldsores need excessive Arginine to travel around on. You need to get a Lysine 1000mg supplement (from Holland@Barrett or wherever) and take it EVERYDAY to neutralise the Arginine. I suffered horrendously from coldsores but haven't had one in nearly a year.

Posted by Geri on 09/03/2010 at 03:12

I get cold sores at least 6 times a year and am sick of it i dont know how i am getting them so often or how to get rid of them

Posted by georgia on 08/03/2010 at 08:53

great help.. cause i totally dont know when im getting a coldsore:S.

Posted by Optional on 02/03/2010 at 06:39

I went down on my girl for the 1st time and it was nice and everything but after a month i started seeing the sides of my lips crack. it's never happened to me before but i didn't really have an outbreak but it was itching and it felt weird. Did my girl give me herpes? how will i know? please help

Posted by Anonymous on 02/02/2010 at 11:38

i have a problem similar to this but it all happens on my vaginal lips ( outer skin) PLEASE HELP ME

Posted by Lindy on 26/11/2009 at 10:51

I just found something that works great. DMSO applied to the sores seals them and starts the healing. It has been 5 days and nothing was working even the expensive meds from Wal-mart.

Posted by Star on 20/03/2009 at 04:53

I have a cold sore. Will I die?

Posted by stv on 10/02/2009 at 11:01

Success!! Just managed to stop a coldsore in its tracks even when starting treatment after the blisters appeared.. the blisters have now receeded. Buy some chelated zinc, L-Lysine and herbal remedy 'Rhus Tox 30C' by Nelsons (in a green tube thing). All of these are available in Holland&Barratt. Take about 3000mg of Lysine on the first day of occurrence then 1000mg on the following days. Follow the instructions on the bottles for the other dosages. Hope it works for others as well as it has for me

Posted by janeee on 19/01/2009 at 09:11

i really hate coldsore, once i get one i think yay its gone for another month or two, but then straight away it comes back! i

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