Causes, Prevention & Treatment for Cold Sore on Skin

Causes, Prevention & Treatment for Cold Sore on Skin

What are cold sores, exactly? 

Cold sores are red, fluid-filled blisters that appear on the lips or other parts of the face. Cold sores can form on the fingers, nose, or within the mouth in rare circumstances. Usually, they're clumped together in patches. 

Close contact, such as kissing, can spread them from person to person. Even when the sores are not visible, they are communicable. 

Cold sores have no cure, and they might reappear at any time. Cold sores can be treated and prevented with the use of certain drugs. 

What causes cold sores to appear? 

The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores and has two types, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both versions of the virus produce sores that are similar in appearance. HSV-1 can cause sores on the genitals, while HSV-2 can cause mouth sores. Cold sores can be contagious and can be spread by kissing or coming in contact with the contagious person.


The virus remains dormant in your body after the sores have healed. This means that when the virus reactivates, new sores can form at any time. 

When their immune systems are weak, such as during illness or periods of stress, some persons with the virus report more frequent breakouts. 

Symptoms of cold sores 

Several days before a cold sore appears, you may detect a tingling or burning sensation on your lips or face. 

You'll see a raised, red blister with fluid when the sore begins. It is frequently unpleasant and tender when touched. There could be several sores present. Cold sores can last up to two weeks and are contagious until they crust over.

During an outbreak, you may also suffer one or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Swollen lymph nodes, fever, and muscle discomfort 
  • If you acquire any eye symptoms during a cold sore breakout, consult your doctor right away. If not treated promptly, the herpes simplex virus can cause permanent vision loss. 

Stages of cold sores

The five stages of cold sores include:

Stage 1: Tingling and itching begin around 24 hours before blisters appear. 

Stage 2: Blisters packed with fluid appear. 

Stage 3: The blisters pop, ooze, and turn into painful ulcers. 

Stage 4: The sores scab over and dry up, producing itching and cracking. 

Stage 5: The scab breaks off and the cold sore cures at this stage. 

Risk factors for cold sores 

90 per cent of adults worldwide test positive for the herpes simplex type 1 virus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Once you've contracted the virus, certain risk factors, such as: 

  • Menstruation 
  • severe burns 
  • Infection
  • fever, or cold 
  • sun exposure 
  • Stress
  • HIV/AIDS or a weakened immune system 
  • dental work 
  • eczema 
  • chemotherapy 

You’re at risk of having a cold sore if you come in contact with the fluid of a cold sore through kissing, exchanging foods or drinks, or sharing personal care equipment such as toothbrushes and razors. Even though there are no visible blisters, you can obtain the virus if you come into touch with the saliva of someone who has it.

Cold sores might cause complications 

Because your body hasn't developed a defence against herpes simplex yet, the initial infection can produce more severe symptoms and problems. Complications are uncommon, but they sometimes happen, particularly in young children. Call the doctor if any of these symptoms are there:

  • a prolonged or high fever 
  • red, itchy eyes with or without discharge 
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing 

People with eczema or an illness that impairs their immune system, such as cancer or AIDS, are more prone to complications. If you think you've gotten the herpes simplex virus and have any of these symptoms, see your doctor. 

Cold sore treatment 

Although there is no cure for cold sores, outbreaks are uncommon in some persons who have the herpes simplex virus. When cold sores do appear, there are numerous treatments available. 

Creams and ointments 

Antiviral ointments, such as penciclovir, can help decrease pain and promote healing when cold sores become bothersome (Denavir). When administered as soon as the first signs of a sore develop, ointments are most beneficial. For four to five days, they must be applied four to five times per day. 

Another therapeutic option is docosanol (Abreva). It's an over-the-counter lotion that can reduce the length of an outbreak by several hours to a day. The cream should be used multiple times a day. 


Oral antiviral drugs such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir) can also be used to treat cold sores (Famvir). If you're having problems with cold sores or have recurrent breakouts, your doctor may advise you to take antiviral drugs on a regular basis. 

Home remedies for a cold sore on the skin

Applying ice or cold washcloths to the sores can help relieve the symptoms. Lip balm containing lemon extract is an alternative treatment for cold sores. For some people, taking lysine supplements on a regular basis is linked to fewer outbreaks. 

Aloe vera, the cooling gel found inside the aloe plant's leaves, may help with cold sores. Apply aloe vera gel or aloe vera lip balm three times a day to a cold sore. 

Petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, won't cure a cold sore, but it can help relieve pain. The jelly protects the skin from cracking. It also acts as a barrier against irritants from the outside and provides you with clear skin. 

Although witch hazel is a natural astringent that can help dry out and treat cold sores, it can sting when used. According to one study, witch hazel possesses antiviral characteristics that may help to prevent the spread of cold sores. Even so, the jury is still out on whether keeping cold sores moist or dry helps them heal faster. 

Always use a clean cotton swab or cotton ball to administer home treatments, lotions, gels, or ointments to cold sores.

Take Away 

Wash your hands frequently and avoid skin contact with others to avoid spreading cold sores to others. During an epidemic, avoid sharing objects that come into contact with your mouths, such as lip balm and eating utensils. By identifying your triggers and taking actions to avoid them, you can help prevent the cold sore virus from reactivating. 

Some preventative measures include: 

  • Apply zinc oxide lip balm before soaking in some rays if you experience cold sores in the sun. 
  • If you get a cold sore every time you're anxious, try stress-reduction tactics like meditation and journaling. 
  • If you have a cold sore, don't kiss them, and if you have active genital herpes, don't have oral sex with them.