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Cold Sores

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Cold sores are common and usually start with a tingling, itching, or burning feeling. They usually start to heal within 10 days and remain contagious until they are completely healed. They may continue to be irritating or painful until healed.

Small fluid-filled blisters appear

Small fluid-filled blisters appear

anywhere on the face

The blisters can appear anywhere on the face

blisters burst and crust over

The blisters burst and crust over into a scab

Photos courtesy of NHS Choices 

Why do cold sores come back?

Cold sores are caused by a virus called herpes simplex. Once you have the virus, it stays in your skin for the rest of your life. Sometimes it causes a cold sore. Most people are exposed to the virus when they’re young after close skin to skin contact with someone who has a cold sore. It doesn’t usually cause any symptoms until you’re older.

How can I avoid triggers/ suggested lifestyle changes?

Some people find that certain things trigger a cold sore, such as another illness, sunshine, or periods. If you regularly get cold sores, it may be a good idea to keep antiviral cream in your medicine cabinet. As soon as you recognise the early tingling feeling of a cold sore use the antiviral creams as they don’t always work after blisters appear.

How do I treat cold sores?

Cold sores take time to heal, and are very contagious, especially when the blisters burst.

Don’t kiss babies if you have a cold sore. It can lead to neonatal herpes, which is very dangerous to newborn babies.


  • Eat cool, soft foods
  • Use an antiseptic mouthwash if it hurts to brush your teeth
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cream or after touching the area
  • Avoid anything that triggers your cold sores
  • Use sunblock lip balm (SPF 15 or above) if sunshine is the trigger
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease pain and swelling (liquid paracetamol is available for children) – don’t give aspirin to children under 16
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration

Do not

  • Eat acidic or salty food
  • Touch your cold sore (apart from applying cream)
  • Rub cream into the cold sore – dab it on instead
  • Kiss anyone while you have a cold sore (Kissing babies can lead to neonatal herpes, which is very dangerous to newborn babies)
  • Share anything that touches the cold sore (such as cold sore creams, cutlery, or lipstick)
  • Have oral sex until your cold sore completely heals – the cold sore virus also causes genital herpes

Examples of products available to buy if applicable

  • Aciclovir Cream (also known as Zovirax)

When should I seek advice?

  • The cold sore hasn’t started to heal within 10 days
  • You’re worried about a cold sore or think it’s something else
  • The cold sore is very large or painful
  • You or your child also have swollen, painful gums and sores in the mouth (gingivostomatitis)
  • You’re pregnant – there’s an increased risk of neonatal herpes
  • You have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes

Where can I get more information?

  • NHS Choices –
  • Your local community pharmacy


Last Updated: Wednesday 26th April 2023 - 11:18:am

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