Cold Sores

A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling. Over the next day or 2, a painful lump or blister will appear on your face.

Treatments for cold sores include antiviral creams and cold sore patches you can get from a pharmacy.

A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling.

Over the next 48 hours:

Cold sores 1
Small fluid-filled blisters appear.

Cold sore 3
The blisters can appear anywhere on the face.

Cold-sores-on-darker-skin
The blisters burst and crust over into a scab.

Cold sores should start to heal within 10 days, but are contagious and may be irritating or painful while they heal.

Some people find that certain things trigger a cold sore, such as another illness, sunshine or menstrual periods.

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

Important

Kissing a baby if you have a cold sore can lead to neonatal herpes, which is very dangerous to newborn babies.


Do

  • eat cool, soft foods

  • wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cream

  • avoid anything that triggers your cold sores

  • use sunblock lip balm (SPF 15 or above) if you're outside in the sun

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease pain and swelling (liquid paracetamol is available for children) – do not give aspirin to children under 16

  • drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration


Don't

  • do not kiss anyone while you have a cold sore

  • do not share anything that comes into contact with a cold sore (such as cold sore creams, towels, cutlery or lipstick)

  • do not have oral sex until your cold sore completely heals as you could give your partner genital herpes

  • do not touch your cold sore (apart from applying cream) – if you do wash your hands

  • do not rub cream into the cold sore – dab it on instead

  • do not eat acidic or salty food if it makes your cold sore feel worse

A GP may prescribe antiviral tablets if your cold sores are very large, painful or keep coming back.

Newborn babies, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system may be referred to hospital for advice or treatment.


Page last reviewed: 20-07-2020
Next review due:20-07-2023

NHS Logo