Everything you Wanted to Know About Cold Sores
Here's everything you ever wanted to know about cold sore infections. Choose your question from the various subject areas below or just scroll through the page.
Definition & Look
What is a cold sore?
OK, so what is a cold sore? Just like the common cold, a cold sore is a virus caused by something called herpes simplex. Once you have the virus it stays in your body for life and will sometimes cause a cold sore. There are two types of this virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types can cause cold sores, though HSV-1 is responsible for the majority of flare-ups.
Most people are exposed to the virus when they're young due to close contact (such as kissing) with someone who has a cold sore. But, for most, it won’t cause symptoms until you’re older. Often, you might not even know you have it until you get a cold sore.
So, how does a cold sore start? The virus sits in the nerve cells in your head. Once there, it will lie inactive and, for some, it will never flare-up. However, there are a few triggers that can reactivate the virus and cause an outbreak of cold sores, such as hot sun, a cold, or strong winds that irritate your skin. It can also be the result of hormonal changes or even stress. While most cold sores will start to heal within a few days, some take between 12 - 15 days.
What does a cold sore look like?
A cold sore typically appears as a small, fluid-filled blister or cluster of blisters on or around the lips. Depending on the stage of a cold sore, the appearance of cold sores can vary from person to person and may recur due to triggers like stress, sun exposure, or a weakened immune system. Read more about the stages of cold sores in our detailed article
Are cold sores herpes?
Most cold sores are the result of a common virus known as herpes simplex (HSV-1). This common virus can affect the skin around the mouth and predominantly lips. Cold soresare passed on through close skin-to-skin contact, and they are generally not transmitted through sexual contact.
Is a cold sore an STD?
If you have a cold sore, that does not mean that you have an STD.
Some less common cold sores can be the results of another similar strain of the herpes simplex virus known as HSV-2. This specific type of virus is transmitted through sexual contact and usually causes herpes genitalis - this is an STD that is commonly found in the genital area.
While having (or developing) a cold sore(s) doesn't mean you have an STD, both types of the herpes simplex virus can cause cold sores and can be caught through saliva, bodily fluids and/or oral sex. Both of those strains (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are more common than you might think, and it doesn't have to be a big deal if you develop a cold sore, as long as you're taking the correct precautions when you have a cold sore outbreak.
Our top tips are to stay away from close skin-on-skin contacts, such as kissing and sharing drinks or food. You also need to look after the infection by speaking to your doctor and seeking the correct medication.
Is a cold sore a lip allergy?
A cold sore is not a lip allergy. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 or HSV-2) and manifest as small, fluid-filled blisters on or around the lips. On the other hand, lip allergies are immune responses to specific allergens, leading to symptoms like redness, swelling, itching, or a rash. For cold sore prevention, consider using Lipivir, a lip care gel specially designed to help reduce the frequency of cold sore outbreaks caused by the herpes simplex virus. If you suspect a lip allergy or have any concerns about your lip health, consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.
Origin & Transmission
How do you get a cold sore? What causes cold sores?
Here’s everything you need to know about where cold sores come from and what causes them.
One of the most frequently asked questions is, ‘are cold sores common?’ The answer is, yes. They’re so common that about 20 - 40% of people who have the HSV-1 virus then develop cold sores.
If you don’t have the virus already, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, most adults are exposed to the virus by the age of 50. However, reactivation of the virus tends to decrease in people over the age of 35.
Cold sores are a result of a virus called herpes simplex. Once you have received this virus, it can stay with you for the rest of your life. A German study found out that 90% of the population carry the virus. Sometimes external factors can cause cold sores to become a regular irritation. These factors can be:
- exposure to hotter or colder temperatures
- increased stress
- lower immune system
To stop further cold sore outbreaks, even if you don’t have the herpes simplex virus, you should stay away from skin-to-skin contact with anyone who has a cold sore.
Are cold sores hereditary?
The simple answer is no. Cold sores are not hereditary.
You can’t develop cold sores, or have cold sore outbreaks just because your close family or parents might suffer with them. You can only catch cold sores through direct skin-on-skin contact with someone who is affected by them.
So how do you actually transmit a cold sore? You can pass on cold sores through saliva, bodily fluids and sharing intimate items such as toothbrushes and cutlery.
Although cold sores are not hereditary, some research has suggested that cold sores could be passed down from your parents. Just like inheriting your eye and hair colour, children may inherit the common virus. It’s suggested that one in every 116 newborns may have this virus that has been passed down from their parents.
Are cold sores contagious?
The simple answer is yes, cold sores are contagious. You can both pass on a cold sore to another person, and develop a cold sore from someone else.
Cold sores are contagious throughout all of their key stages, from developing, crusting and the natural healing process. From the moment you first start to feel the area tingling (or usual signs that signify a cold sore developing), to the natural healing process, they are contagious and can be passed on to others. However, while the virus is inactive (you have no cold sores), they are not contagious.
If you have a cold sore, you can prevent it from spreading by doing the following:
- avoiding kissing or oral sex, until the sore is fully healed
- not sharing things that may have been in contact with your mouth; such as towels, lipstick, toothbrushes or cutlery
- avoid close contact with children with burns or eczema
- not touching or scratching your cold sore
- avoiding close physical contact with babies or those with lower immune systems such as the elderly
How do cold sores spread?
The most frequently asked question about cold sores is ‘how do cold sores spread?’. It’s important to know how they spread from person to person so that you can make sure you don’t pass it on to anyone else.
Cold sores are caused by HSV-1, which is spread through close contact with skin or the transmission of bodily fluids such as saliva, kissing, oral sex or even simply sharing cosmetics, can pass the virus on. And, once you’ve contracted HSV-1, you have it for life. Once spread, the virus enters the body through a break in the skin, such as a small cut.
Cold sores are contagious and easily spread while the virus is active (when you have a cold sore). The fluid in the blister is considered to be the most infectious. However, cold sores are contagious throughout all of their key stages. You can still pass the virus to other people while it’s dormant, but it’s far less likely to spread.
You may have the virus, but not experience symptoms of a cold sore. This is because the virus can lie dormant in your nerve cells until something triggers a reactivation. Things that can trigger a cold sore are:
- stress or exhaustion
- hormonal changes
- sun exposure or cold winds
- physical injury or surgery
Do cold sores live on lipstick?
Can you get a cold sore from lipstick? Yes. Expert microbiologists believe that while the virus can’t live for long outside of the human body, it can live for a short period.
So, what about other items? HSV-1 (the virus that causes cold sores) can live on other items that a person with cold sores uses. Items such as towels, glasses, cutlery and toothbrushes can all host the virus. HSV-1 will also survive longer when in a warm or moist environment.
Can cold sores live on clothes?
Yes and no. While a brief touch will not spread a cold sore, an item of clothing that touches a ruptured sore could potentially transfer the virus. This is because acold sore is at its most contagiouswhen they rupture (when fluid seeps out of your cold sore). While the virus is unlikely to spread through clothing (as the virus will struggle to survive outside of the skin), you can alleviate any risk by simply popping the item in the washing machine.
Cold sore progression
Stages of Cold sores
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, each presenting unique symptoms and characteristics. Read more about the stages of a cold sore infection in our article.
What are signs of the early stage of a cold sore?
The early stage of a cold sore, known as the prodrome stage, is marked by subtle signs before the appearance of visible blisters. Common signs of the early stage of a cold sore include tingling, itching, or burning sensations around the lips or mouth. Some individuals may also experience redness or swelling in the affected area. If you notice these symptoms, Lipivir can help to reduce the likelihood of a full-blown outbreak. Early intervention can help manage cold sores effectively.
My cold sore is bleeding – is this normal?
With most cold sores there are eight stages. During the crusting stage (when your cold sore begins to scab over), you may find that your cold sore could crack and bleed. It’s perfectly normal for your cold sore to bleed during this stage.
When your cold sore is cracking or bleeding, this is when your cold sore is the most contagious. It is best to stay away from kissing others or sharing food and drink.
Can I kiss whilst I have a cold sore?
While the virus is active (from the moment you feel a tingling sensation to the point where your cold sore is healed) you shouldn’t kiss anyone. This is because HSV-1 (the virus that causes cold sores) is spread through bodily fluids. This means that you should wait until your cold sore is completely healed before you kiss someone or engage in oral sex. This is because a cold sore may still be contagious, even in the late stages of healing.
The longer you wait after an outbreak, the lower your risk of transmitting your cold sore to anyone else.
What happens if my cold sore lasts over 2 weeks?
There’s no need to stress if your cold sore is still visible after 2 weeks. It’s pretty normal for a cold sore to remain visible on the skin for up to 2 weeks, or even longer. Some doctors believe that a cold sore can last up to 6 weeks.
After a week, your cold sore will begin to scab over and heal on its own. After 2 to 3 weeks, your cold sore will usually disappear without leaving a scar.
If your cold sore persists, then we recommend seeing your doctor who will guide you towards which cold sore cream or medication that will help shorten the duration of a cold sore.
Healing & Treatment
How do I heal a cold sore?
Once you’ve contracted HSV-1 (the virus that causes cold sores), there is no way to get rid of the virus. There are plenty of things you can do to manage the symptoms and heal your cold sore.
Firstly, early intervention is the best way to treat your cold sore. A treatment like lipivir® is a preventative product, it stops cold sores before they appear. You should apply or attempt to treat your cold sore as early as possible. The first signs to look out for are itching, burning or tingling around the lips for a day or so before a small, hard, painful spot appears. If it’s your first outbreak, you may also experience:
- painful gums
- sore throat
- muscle aches
- swollen glands
If you haven’t treated your cold sore early, there are other ways to speed up a cold sore’s healing. While they’re not medically proven, many people find that a cold compress or ice can reduce inflammation. You can also take ibuprofen.
While the best treatment is early intervention, if you have found that your infection is getting worse or severe then your GP can potentially offer you an antiviral medication or injection to reduce discomfort.
How long do cold sores last?
The duration of cold sores can vary from person to person
and depends on various factors. Generally, cold sores typically last between 7 to 10 days, from the initial appearance of symptoms to complete healing.
However, in some cases, the healing process may extend beyond this timeframe.
Early intervention with cold sore treatments, such as lipivir - a cold sore prevention lip care gel - can help reduce the likelihood
of outbreaks. Additionally, maintaining good lip hygiene and avoiding triggers like stress, sun exposure, or a weakened immune system may also aid in speeding up the healing process. If cold sores are recurring frequently or persisting
for an extended period, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended for
further evaluation and personalized management.
When is a cold sore healed enough to kiss?
Determining when a cold sore is healed enough to kiss depends on the individual and the stage of healing. Generally, it is best to avoid kissing or any direct contact with the cold sore until it has fully healed. This means waiting until the scab has completely dried and fallen off, and the skin underneath has returned to its normal appearance.
Kissing or coming into contact with a cold sore before it is fully healed can increase the risk of spreading the virus to others or to different parts of your own body, leading to more outbreaks. It's essential to practice patience and wait until the cold sore is entirely gone before resuming any intimate contact.
For a definitive timeframe on when it is safe to kiss again, it's best to consult a healthcare professional, who can assess the specific condition and advise on appropriate precautions.
Which cold sore treatment is best?
The best way to treat a cold sore is early intervention. Start treating a cold sore as soon as you feel the tell-tale tingling.
A preventative product is always the best way to treat a cold sore. A treatment like lipivir® is designed to tackle a cold sore before it starts.
When the herpes virus is dormant, it sits on the nerve tissue around your ganglion. While it is dormant it sends out scout particles to investigate the condition of your lip cells. If the conditions are favourable and ready for infection, the particles will send back signals to the virus in the nerve tissue.
This is when lipivir® comes in - interrupting the signalling between scout particles and the virus. When you apply the product to the affected area the virus cannot start infecting the new area, preventing an invasion of new virus particles and therefore stopping a cold sore outbreak right in its place.
Essentially, lipivir® builds a barrier. Preventing further cold sore outbreaks and leaving you cold sore-free.
How to prevent a cold sore?
Preventing a cold sore is simple. As soon as you feel the tell-tale tingling, you need to treat the cold sore with lipivir®. If left untreated, a cold sore will clear up within two weeks with those that have a healthy immune system.
Do cold sore treatments work for herpes?
Cold sore treatments will work for HSV-1 (a specific strain of herpes). The herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1) usually causes cold sores, and the herpes simplex type 2 virus (HSV-2) usually causes genital herpes.
Does a cold sore mean you have herpes?
Having a cold sore does not mean you have an STD. Most cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is usually not generally transmitted by sexual contact.
However, while it’s far less common, cold sores may be caused by another type of herpes simplex virus called HSV-2 which causes genital herpes. That said, you can catch HSV-1 and HSV-2 from oral sex even if the person infected with the virus doesn’t have any visible cold sores or other signs of infection.
How do you know when your cold sore is no longer contagious?
Cold sores are contagious from the moment the virus is active (that’s from the point where you feel a tingling sensation up until they are fully healed).
So, how do you know when your cold sore is no longer contagious? A cold sore normally lasts around 15 days and during that period, your cold sore is contagious. The Mayo Clinic suggests that cold sores are most contagious when oozing blisters are present, but you can still transmit the virus even if there is no active sore.
I keep getting cold sores one after another. How can I prevent this?
Experiencing frequent cold sores can be frustrating, but there are several measures you can take to prevent recurrent outbreaks:
- Maintain Good Lip Hygiene: Keep your lips clean and moisturized. Avoid picking or touching existing cold sores, as this can worsen the condition and increase the risk of spreading the virus.
- Use Cold Sore Prevention Lip Care Gel: Consider using a specialized lip care gel, such as lipivir, that is designed to reduce the frequency of cold sore outbreaks. Apply it regularly to create a protective barrier on the lips.
- Manage Stress: Stress can trigger cold sores, so try to implement stress-reduction techniques like meditation, exercise, or hobbies that promote relaxation.
- Protect from Sun Exposure: Prolonged sun exposure can trigger outbreaks. Use a lip balm with SPF and avoid excessive sunlight, especially during peak hours.
- Boost Immune System: A strong immune system can help suppress the herpes simplex virus. Maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and consider taking
immune-boosting supplements if necessary.
- Avoid Triggering Factors: Identify and avoid factors that commonly trigger cold sores, such as illness, fatigue, hormonal changes, or certain foods.
- Practice Healthy Habits: Ensure you get enough sleep, stay hydrated, and maintain overall good health to support your body's ability to fight off infections.
- Limit Contact during outbreaks: When you have an active cold sore, avoid close
contact with others to prevent spreading the virus.
If you continue to experience frequent or severe cold sores despite these preventive measures, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized advice and may consider antiviral medications to help manage recurrent outbreaks. Remember, consistent and proactive care can significantly reduce the frequency and impact of cold sores.
Pregnancy & Babies
I suffer from a cold sore during a pregnancy. What now?
If a pregnant woman has a history of cold sores (caused by
HSV-1) but does not have an active outbreak or primary infection during pregnancy, the risk of transmission to the baby is relatively low. However, it's still essential for pregnant women to take precautions if they have a history of herpes infections. lipivir as a cold sore prevention lip care gel is safe to use during a pregnancy. Many of our customers already do so, however, we would advise consulting a healthcare practitioner before use.
The ingredients of lipivir are polyethylene glycols and have no known side effects.
Remember, pregnancy requires extra care, and it's essential to work closely with your healthcare provider to ensure both your well-being and the health of your baby.
Can babies get cold sores?
When you’re a new parent or close to someone that is, it’s really tempting to cover a new baby with kisses. So, for those who are experiencing a cold sore outbreak, you’ll want to know, ‘if I have a cold sore can I kiss my baby?’. The simple answer is no.
Cold sores are contagious during all stages of development and the natural healing process. This means that you should not kiss your baby, or anyone else, during this time as you could pass on the herpes virus to your baby or others.
As you now know, the virus spreads through saliva and skin-to-skin contact, so when you have a cold sore you should stay away from using the same cutlery and sharing food and drink until the cold sore has completely healed.
So when can you kiss your baby?
Once your cold sore has completely healed. This process usually takes one week or up to 15 days. Once the process is over, then you can kiss your baby as much as you want.
Do vitamins help against cold sores?
Vitamins can play a supportive role in managing and preventing cold sores, as they contribute to a healthy immune system and overall well-being. However, while vitamins may help, they are not a standalone cure for cold sores. In combination with other preventive measures like lip care gels such as lipivir, maintaining good lip hygiene, managing stress, and avoiding triggering factors, vitamins can be a valuable addition to your cold sore prevention strategy.
- Vitamin C: Known for its immune-boosting properties, vitamin C can help strengthen the body's defense against infections, including the herpes simplex virus responsible for cold sores.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant vitamin aids in promoting healthy skin and may help in the healing process of cold sores.
- Vitamin D: Adequate levels of vitamin D are crucial for immune function, and some studies suggest it may have a role in preventing viral infections.
Are there famous celebrities with regular cold sores?
Cold sores are a common condition affecting millions of people worldwide, regardless of their celebrity status. The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) responsible for cold sores is highly prevalent, and many individuals, including celebrities, may experience occasional outbreaks.
Like anyone else, celebrities may prefer to keep their health conditions private, so it's not always publicly known if they have regular cold sores or not. Cold sores are a manageable condition, and many people find ways to cope with and prevent outbreaks, including the use of cold sore prevention lip care products and antiviral medications.
If you are personally dealing with cold sores, remember that you are not alone, and there are various effective treatments and preventive measures available. Always consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and advice on managing cold sores.
Are women affected more often than men?
Yes, women are affected more often by cold sores compared to men. Studies have shown that women tend to have a higher prevalence of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which is the primary cause of cold sores.
The reasons for this gender difference are not entirely clear, but several factors may contribute to the increased susceptibility of women to cold sores:
Hormonal Factors: Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause can impact the immune system and potentially trigger cold sore outbreaks.
Immune Response: Differences in immune responses between men and women may influence how their bodies react to the herpes simplex virus and its reactivation.
Stress: Women may experience different stressors compared to men, and stress is a common trigger for cold sore outbreaks.
Cosmetic Use: Some studies suggest that women's use of cosmetic products on the lips may play a role in increasing the risk of recurrent cold sores.
It's important to note that while women may experience cold sores more frequently, the condition can affect anyone, regardless of gender. Effective preventive measures and treatments, such as cold sore prevention lip care products and antiviral medications, can be beneficial for both women and men in managing and reducing the frequency of cold sore outbreaks. If cold sores are a recurring issue, seeking advice from a healthcare professional can provide personalized guidance on prevention and management strategies.
Can you kiss someone with a cold sore?
Kissing someone with a cold sore can be risky and is generally not recommended. Cold sores are highly contagious and are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). The virus can be easily transmitted through direct contact, especially when a cold sore is active and visible.
When a person has an active cold sore, the virus is present in the fluid-filled blisters. Even before the blisters appear, during the early prodrome stage, the virus can be shed and transmitted to others. This means that kissing or engaging in any intimate contact with someone who has an active cold sore increases the risk of transmitting the virus to the uninfected person.