Cold Sores

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Cold sores are a viral infection caused by HSV-1, which is a type of herpes simplex virus. Cold sores are small blisters that develop around the mouth, which can take up to 10 days to heal. They can be quite painful and uncomfortable. There is no cure for cold sores but they can be effectively treated with antiviral medication. The HSV-1 virus usually remains dormant but when the immune system is weakened, an outbreak of cold sores may occur.


Cold sores are caused by the HSV-1 virus, which is very contagious and can be transmitted through kissing or sharing objects such as cutlery, drinks and toothbrushes with someone that is infected. On the rare occasion, cold sores can also be caused by the HSV-2 virus, which is more commonly associated with genital herpes. HSV-2 can cause cold sores as a result of oral sex transmission. Factors such as sunlight, stress, illness or a weakened immune system can trigger outbreaks of cold sores.


The main symptom is the formation of blisters around the mouth. These blisters can be itchy, painful and uncomfortable. They may also crack and bleed. A tingling sensation may be felt before the blisters form, which is a warning sign before an outbreak. This would be a good time to seek antiviral medication as the earlier it is used the quicker the cold sores heal.


  • What are the stages of cold sore formation?

    1. A tingling, burning and/or itching sensation.
    2. Small fluid blister(s) start to form around the mouth.
    3. The blister will burst and form a scab.
    4. The scab will slowly heal within the next few days.

  • What should I do when I have a cold sore?

    • Eat cool, soft foods.
    • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
    • Use lip balm with SPF 15 or above.
    • Take painkillers to ease pain and swelling.

  • What shouldn’t I do when I have a cold sore?

    • Do not eat salty, acidic food.
    • Do not kiss anyone when you have a cold sore.
    • Do not touch your cold sore.
    • Do not share anything you come into contact with (e.g. cutlery, lipstick).
    • Do not have oral sex until your cold sore has gone.

  • When are Cold Sores contagious?

    Cold sores are contagious from the second you feel the tingling/itching/burning sensation to when the blister has burst, scabbed over and fully healed.