Cold Sores – What You Need to Know

Written by Josh Beechraft

March 30, 2021

lady using lip balm


Cold sores can be unsightly and hard to work with. They will creep up without notice and may be painful and hard to get rid of. Without the right help, it is impossible to get rid of them. Understanding where the cold sores come from and how to handle them better can make them have less of an impact on your life. Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to know about cold sores so you can be prepared.

What is a Cold Sore?

Before we get into more about cold sores, we need to explore what these are. Cold sores are simple a common viral infection. They are tiny blisters filled with fluid that is on or around the lips. These blisters can get grouped together in patches. And when the blister does finally break, there may be a scab that forms in that area, one that will last for a few days.

Cold sores can be really uncomfortable and even painful and may be difficult to live with because of their appearance. The good news is that these will often heal on their own within two to three weeks without leaving any kind of scar behind.

What Will Cause a Cold Sore Outbreak?

Right now, there is no cure for the cold sore virus. Once the infection gets to you, there will be periods when the virus is not that active and times when you will have the cold sores break out all over. However, there are certain situations, or risk factors, that can increase the chances of having an outbreak.

Some of the most common triggers for one of these outbreaks include:

  • Being overly tired and stressed.
  • Extreme exposure to the sun
  • Being in really cold weather
  • Upper respiratory infections and fever
  • Trauma from dental work you just did
  • An infectious disease
  • Hormonal changes
  • Factors that seem to compromise how well the immune system works
  • Certain foods, including chocolate

Learning how to take good care of your health so you do not get sick and getting enough rest while reducing your stress levels can help to reduce the likelihood of a cold sore outbreak.

Common Symptoms of a Cold Sore

cold sores


It is important to recognize some of the signs and symptoms of these cold sores. Often these sores are going to appear either on the lips or in areas close to the lips. Occasionally they will show up closer to the nose instead. It is possible you will feel a little tingling or pain a few days before this sore is able to form.

Each person will experience this kind of infection differently. Some people may have the symptoms above as well as a swelling of the lymph glands, fever, and mouth soreness. Cold sores will often show up as small raised blisters that are filled in with a clear fluid. This is able to cause a good deal of redness in the area that is affected, along with some discomfort and pain. Often the cold sores will be able to heal up within 14 days.

The Common Stages of Cold Sores

Cold sores are not a lot of fun to deal with and everyone would rather never see them happen at all. However, if you do have cold sores, you may be curious as to how long the outbreak will last and if there are any stages common in these outbreaks. There are a few different stages that a cold sore will go through. They often last between seven to ten days. During this time, they will go through five stages including:


This is the stage that will happen in the first two days of a cold sore outbreak. It is during this stage that you may notice a few symptoms including:

  • Redness and some swelling in the area affected
  • Tingling, burning, and itching under the skin
  • Soreness or tightness around the skin

If you add on some antiviral creams at this time, it is possible to stop the outbreak or at least limit the symptoms of it. Something like Prosurx cream during this stage is a great option.


From here, we enter the blistering stage, which can happen from day two to four of the outbreak. This is when you will notice the blister, or a group of red, small, and painful blisters occur around the mouth. It is not uncommon for these to fill with fluids to make the skin around it swollen and red. Some of the areas where this will happen include the cheeks, nose, and lips.

This stage is going to happen because the immune system is working hard against the virus. During this stage, you should continue to use any topical cream you have chosen. Do not squeeze the blisters. This may cause transmission of the virus and can slow down the healing time.


During this stage, which is somewhere between days four and five of the outbreak, the cold sore will be the most contagious and painful. During this stage, the blister may burst and the sore will be open. This may lead to a red ring of inflammation showing up around the affected area. Make sure that you wash your hands well during this stage to prevent the virus from spreading but try not to touch it at all.


It is between days five to eight that the cold sores will dry out and a scab will form. These scabs are not fun and can be itchy, crack open, and shrink. Sometimes this will lead them to bleed. Some of the other symptoms that may happen include burning and itching. Your goal is not to pick or peel at the scabs. This may be tempting but it causes pain, damage to the skin, and can cause the infection to get worse and start over again.


For those who do not work with any kind of medication, you may notice that the healing part will start between days 8 to 10. When the scabs start to come off, there may be a little more swelling that happens as well. You may notice that the new skin that is underneath where the scab used to be is reddish and pink for a bit, even after the scabs have fallen off and get better.

The amount of time that you take to go through each stage will depend on how bad the whole outbreak is and whether you get medication for the cold sore or not. If you do not take any medication, it is likely that the outbreak is going to last a lot longer. there are some medications that will help to limit the amount of damage for the outbreak and can speed up the whole process that we listed above.

Can I Spread a Cold Sore?

If you already have a cold sore, it is easy to infect someone else. This is usually done through some kind of direct contact, such as kissing. So, if you have one of these sores, it is best to avoid kissing anyone until the situation is cleared up.

It is also possible for the cold sore to get spread if someone touches the cold sore and then touches another mucous membrane such as the mouth, eyes, or nose. Any time you touch a cold sore, you must make sure to use some warm water with soap to wash your hands to keep them safe and prevent infection to yourself or to another person.

In some cases, it is possible for an infection to occur through indirect contact with the virus. This could be when two people share some personal bathroom items, like a razor or sharing out of the same glass because these items may come in contact with someone who has the sore and then spread to the other person.

Are There Treatments for Cold Sores?

There are different things that can help with cold sores and make them a little less painful than they would do on their own, there is no current cure for cold sores. Most of the effective treatments are going to be prescription medications that your doctor can give to you. Some are in the form of creams while others will be pills that you will need to swallow. For severe infections, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug through an injection to help you out.

snow lip treatment


There are a few over-the-counter options, including choices like Abreva, to help shorten how much time it takes to heal from the cold sore. You should always use a cotton swab to help handle the cold sore. Using your fingers can increase the likelihood that it will spread and get worse. Using a Rejuvenating Lip Treatment to protect from the sun is a good option, a cold compress to promote healing, and some pain relievers may also do the job too.

How to Prevent and Manage Cold Sores

Anyone who has had a cold sore before will notice that the virus responsible for it is contagious. This means that you need to be careful about how it spreads to keep yourself safe and to make sure that you are not spreading it either. To help reduce or even prevent the cold sore from coming back again and to prevent the spread of these cold sores to others, there are a few steps to consider including:

  • Avoid sharing any items like eating utensils, razors, and towels.
  • Do not be in direct contact with others when you have cold sores present.
  • Be careful about things that may trigger the cold sores like excess time in the sun, fatigue, and stress.
  • Clean the cold sore often with nonprotein soap and warm water, making sure they stay dry. A Lip Exfoliating Scrub can be a great option to keep the mouth clean and prevent a new outbreak.
  • Do not touch the cold sore. Each time you do increases the chance of them spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Use proper hand washing hygiene.
  • Use a topical skin protectant to prevent any infection in the cold sore. Apply with a cotton swab.
  • Use moisturizers or lip balm to help the lips when the cold sore is there.
  • Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages. This may hinder the immune system from fighting the outbreak.
  • Avoid foods like chocolate during an outbreak because it contains amino acid arginine that can make things worse.

Using a little bit of caution ahead of time will keep you and others safe from the cold sore. And with the right precautions, you can even prevent the outbreaks from coming back as often to yourself, which can make a big world of difference.

When To See Your Doctor

doctor checking his mobile


At some point, you may need to talk with your doctor about the cold sores. Often you just need to wait it out or use some of the treatments that are listed above. This is often enough to help make a difference. But in some cases, the cold sore does not get better like it should or the outbreak is more severe than normal. During these times, you may need to seek medical advice on how to handle the issue.

It is a good idea to consult your physician if:

  • The cold sore does not get better within 2 weeks or you notice that it just keeps getting worse.
  • You get frequent episodes of these cold sores. This is generally seen as getting more than six outbreaks in the year.
  • You have any kind of health condition that has an effect on your immune system and can make it weaker.
  • Your cold sore starts to show that there may be a secondary infection. This could be discolored discharge, swelling, or unusual redness.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe a few other options or prescriptions that you can use to take care of the cold sore and keep you safe. Often you just have to deal with the cold sore and hope it gets better. But when the outbreaks seem to come all the time or you get another infection on top of the cold sore, it is time to seek out medical help to see what you can do to make things better.