Stages of Cold Sores

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Cold sores are little blisters that may appear around the edge of your lip. These are also known as fever blisters. They can be painful and annoying at times. Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Type 1 of the virus is in the same family as the one that causes genital herpes. However, genital herpes is caused by Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Cold sores are very contagious and can be passed from one person to another.


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Cold sores normally last roughly 6 to 12 days. There are fives stages that a cold sore goes through. They are the tingling stage, the blister stage, the weeping stage, the scabbing stage and the healing stage.

The tingling stage is also known as the prodrome stage. This stage can last 1 to 2 days. During this stage, an individual can feel a tingling sensation where the cold sore is beginning to form. This spot may turn red and may swell.

The blistering stage is when a fluid-filled blister will appear. It may be a large blister or it may form into clusters. This stage normally lasts about 2 days.

The weeping stage is also known as the ulcer stage. This stage is the most contagious because the blister will rupture and the liquid inside will ooze out. This stage should last for 1 day.

For the next 2 to 3 days, the cold sore will be in the scabbing stage. The cold sore will dry, scab and then crust. The virus may still be present until the scab falls off.

After the scab falls off, the cold sore will eventually disappear. It normally does not leave a scar. This is the beginning of the healing stage.


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Currently, there is no cure for the HSV-1. Once an individual contracts it, it will stay in her body. There is no way to prevent a cold sore outbreak, but there is medication that can affect how long it may last. A physician may prescribe an antiviral medication to take before the blister forms. It should be used as soon as the tingling is noticed. This medication limits the virus’s ability to spread giving the immune system enough time to fight it off.

Self Care

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If a cold sore is too painful, some ice applied to the area may help. There are also some over-the-counter cream medications that could be used. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to ease the pain. If the cold sore is on a child, consult with his physician first before giving him any medication. Never try to squeeze a cold sore blister and also do not attempt to peel the scab off before it is ready.


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There are several ways to prevent cold sores from occurring. One way is to wash your hands often, especially after touching or applying cream to a cold sore. Avoid kissing people while you have a cold sore in order to prevent them from getting the virus. Do not share razors or shavers with others. It is also best not to share towels with others when you have a cold sore. Also, try to stay healthy enough to avoid other viruses like the cold and flu.

When to Seek Help

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Immediately call a physician if pus (a yellow fluid filled with bacteria) develops or if you reach a temperature of greater than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Also call a physician if you have a disease that causes weak immune systems such as HIV or cancer. Be sure to inform your physician if any new sores appear. Go to the emergency room if you develop a high fever, are unable to swallow or become confused. You may be required to undergo special treatment and/or special tests.