Cold Sore Stages

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are a common and contagious viral infection caused primarily by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Throughout the lifecycle of a cold sore, it goes through eight distinct stages. We aim to equip you with valuable knowledge about the stages of a cold sore, from the initial infection to the complete healing process. Understanding these stages can help you recognize the early signs of a cold sore, take appropriate preventive measures, and manage the infection effectively.

Stage 1 - Latent period

The first stage is known as the latent period. During this stage, the HSV-1 virus (the virus that causes cold sores) It moves to sensory nerve cells near the site of the initial infection and will be dormant in your body. It is unlikely that you’ll have any symptoms.

Stage 2 - Prodromal stage

The second stage is the prodromal stage. For most people, this is the first sign of a cold sore and the best stage to treat the virus. You’ll most likely feel a tingling or itching sensation around the lips or slightly red skin in the affected area. A preventative product such as lipivir®is the best treatment, as, at this point, you can stop the cold sore from developing.

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Stage 3 - Inflammation

Inflammation is the third stage if you haven’t already treated your cold sore during the prodromal stage. At this point, the HSV-1 will target cells in your lip or mouth and the process of a sore will start. While this only takes around 24 hours, you might experience some discomfort.

Stage 4 - Vesicle Formation

The fourth stage is the pre-sore, this is where you’ll experience one or more hard blisters on (or around) your lips. At this stage, you’ll most likely be able to see small fluid-filled blisters, called vesicles. These blisters are highly contagious and contain a high concentration of active virus particles.

Stage 5 - Open lesion stage

The fifth stage is when your cold sore is at its most contagious and is known as the open lesion stage. During this period, your sore will be exposed and may weep or even bleed. This may leave behind painful, shallow open sores or ulcers on the skin. For most people, this lasts one to two days.

Stage 6 - Crusting

The sixth stage is known as crusting. As the ulcers start to heal, a yellowish or brownish crust forms over the cold sore. The crust shields the healing tissue underneath. For most people, this lasts a few days and it is the first stage of the healing process.

Stage 7 - Healing

The next stage is healing. You’ll find that a scab has covered the cold sore and new skin is developing underneath. It’s important not to pick at the scab as this can prolong the healing process. Even at this seventh stage, your cold sore is still infectious.

Stage 8 - Post-scab stage

The eighth stage is the post-scab stage. Your cold sore will have healed and your skin will be returning to normal. You might see some redness in the affected area for a few days.