Cold Sores: What You Should Know

Let’s face it, cold sores aren’t fun or pretty, and they’re a nuisance. However, most adults (up to 8 out of 10) have the virus that causes them. Read on to learn more about cold sores and what to do about them.

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What are cold sores?

Cold sores (or fever blisters) are small blisters that appear on the lips and around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There 2 main types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. While both can cause blisters on the lips and genitals, HSV-1 is usually linked with cold sores and HSV-2 with genital herpes.
HSV is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with the sores, fluid from the sores and saliva. Some people who catch the virus only ever have one outbreak, while others can have outbreaks as often as several times a month.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for cold sores, but there are several treatments that can help with the symptoms.


The first symptoms of cold sores often include: tingling, burning, and itching around your mouth and lips a few hours to a day or two before the blisters appear. The first time you get a cold sore, you may also have a fever, a sore throat, or swollen glands, but these are rare when cold sores recur.


  • Usually appear in a group around the mouth or on the lips and are often red, swollen, and sore.
  • Often break open, leaving shallow open sores that leak a clear fluid
  • Then crust over and disappear after several days to 2 weeks
Other symptoms
In children, cold sore symptoms can range from nothing at all to severe pain and discomfort. For some adults, cold sores can be very painful while others have the virus but never have any symptoms.


HSV usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth, so if you have a cold sore it is important to avoid:

  • Sharing eating/drinking utensils
  • Sharing razors
  • Kissing another person
  • Touching your lips on any part of your skin or that of someone else (cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body)
  • Picking at the cold sore

It’s a good idea to wash your hands frequently if you have a cold sore, to avoid spreading it to others. You can also gently wash the cold sore itself with mild soap and water. You should avoid washing it in alcohol, as this can dry out the cold sore, and may worsen redness.


Stages & triggers

The stages of a cold sore are based on the order that symptoms appear. There are five stages:

  1. Tingling stage
  2. Blister stage
  3. Weeping (leaking) stage
  4. Scabbing stage
  5. Healing stage

HSV will typically wait until your immune system is under stress and it takes advantage of the situation. Common things that can trigger the virus are:

  • Another infection, such as cold or flu
  • Sunlight
  • Your period
  • Digestive problems
  • Emotional stress
  • Dental work

If you get cold sores a lot, try to be aware of what triggers them so that you can treat the cold sore as soon as you feel that tingling stage.



Cold sores usually start to heal on their own in a few days. And the good news is outbreaks don’t last that long and usually heal in several days to 2 weeks.

Even so, they can be painful, ugly, and embarrassing. While there is no cure for HSV the symptoms can be treated with skin creams, ointments, medicated patches or sometimes pills.

Treatment can help heal the cold sores faster, ease the pain from the blisters and reduce other uncomfortable symptoms.

The best time to begin treatment is in the tingling, or "prodrome" stage.

There are many different over-the-counter and prescription therapies available for cold sores. Just ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for one that may be right for you.

Important information

The Pharmacist at Walmart is knowledgeable about cold sores and all kinds of common conditions that you or your family may have... Just ask!

This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.

The pharmacist at Walmart does not endorse or recommend any sponsor or their products or services.
Any representation, performance claim, warranty or guarantee in any materials herein is the sole responsibility of the sponsor that has prepared such materials and is not independently verified by Walmart.

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