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 2
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 periods.

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


Do not 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

  • 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 sunshine is the trigger

  • 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


  • 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, cutlery or lipstick)

  • do not have oral sex until your cold sore completely heals – the cold sore virus also causes genital herpes

  • do not touch your cold sore (apart from applying cream)

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

  • do not eat acidic or salty food

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: 04-07-2017
Next review due:04-07-2020

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