Cold sores

Cold sores are a very common annoyance that affect most people at some point in their lives. In most cases they only last for about a week and will heal. However they tend to return and can cause problems for people throughout their lives. This article looks at ways that you can deal with cold sores and will hopefully provide you with information that you can use to manage this condition in the future.

What are they?

One of the best descriptions of a cold sore is to say that it is a blister that forms around your lips and mouth. A virus that is known as herpes simplex causes cold sores. In some cases cold sores are known by the different name of herpes labialis or fever blisters. Herpes simplex can be separated into two different forms of virus known simply as type 1 and type 2. Generally it is type 1 that leads to the formation of cold sores, however both types can cause warts or sores on the genitals, a condition known as genital herpes. The information that is outlined in this article is aimed at those who get cold sores and not for those who are suffering from genital herpes. Herpes is a contagious condition and is generally spread by saliva from one person to another. Most people are infected with the virus when they are children and some of these kids become quite ill when they are first infected. Ulcers may form in the inside of their mouth and this may result in painful swallowing that makes it difficult to swallow and eat. Alongside this they may have swollen glands, a poor appetite, bad breath, little energy and a fever. Any child who has these symptoms should be taken to the doctor as they may benefit from treatment. Once you have been infected then you will have the virus for life and it will live on the nerves of your face. As a result you can get more cold sores at any time. Some things are thought to trigger these cold sores to come out and some of these things include: tiredness and stress, excessive sunlight, throat infections, menstrual periods and certain drugs. When you have cold sores you are contagious and can pass the virus onto other people through your saliva. For this reason you should avoid sharing drink bottles, towels, and do not kiss that person while they have them. It is also vital that you avoid oral sex when you have cold sores as you may pass the virus to your partner’s genitals.


Probably the first thing that you will notice when you get cold sores is that you will get red patches that become small blisters around your lips and mouth. When these blisters form, they become bigger and then they burst and become an open sore. Alongside this some people also suffer from a fever. Fortunately this will only last for around a week and then your skin will return to normal. Before the blisters appear some people notice a tingling feeling on around their lips, this generally occurs about two days before they come up.


In most cases you do not actually have to do anything in order to make the cold sores go away. They will usually clear up in about 7 to 10 days. However as always these can be distressing and there are some things that you can do in order to help them go away faster.

What can I do myself?

For some people sunlight is the trigger of their cold sores and in this case it makes sense to wear sunscreens in order to protect the skin from cold sores. Some people also go to the pharmacy and buy antiviral creams such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or penciclovir (Fenistil). However there is not very good research to support the use of these creams on cold sores. Though they may help your cold sores go away faster there is no evidence that they help to prevent attacks in the future. This is not the only problem with these creams as they have side effects and can make the skin itchy and red. Other creams can be used in the treatment of cold sores and these include zinc oxide that is often used in the treatment of nappy rash. Another popular cream is tetracaine and this is a painkilling cream. However there is not very good evidence to support the use of these creams.

There are medicines that some doctors may prescribe if you go to them with cold sores. The most common of these medications is a type called an antiviral. Doctors will generally only prescribe these medicines in the case of babies and children with cold sores, or in the case of adults who have very bad cold sores. Another group of people who may get one of these prescriptions are those adults who have an immune system that is not working very well. Generally these patients suffer from HIV or cancer. Medicines that are usually prescribed by doctors are acyclovir, valaciclovir and famciclovir. These can be given in tablet form or in liquid form for babies or young children. There is pretty good evidence to support the use of these medications in the treatment of cold sores in these groups and they generally help quite well. If you take antiviral medications at the outset of symptoms or when you first start to notice the tingling then taking antiviral medicines may help to speed up the recovery. Some of the side effects of these medicines include nausea, headaches, diarrhea, dry mouth, upset stomach and wind.


Generally cold sores will clear up without treatment in about 7 to 10 days. However there are certain groups that need to seek treatment. Most of those who are infected with herpes simplex virus will suffer from cold sores at least once a year. This disease can be serious if it spreads to your eyes, however this is not a common occurrence. Those who have a weak immune system need to seek medical treatment as soon as symptoms appear as this virus can seriously affect them.

The content on this page is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice. Patients should not use the information presented on this page for diagnosing a health-related issue or disease. Before taking any medication or supplements, patients should always consult a physician or qualified healthcare professional for medical advice or information about whether a drug is safe, appropriate or effective.