Cold Sore Stages and Solutions


Whether it’s a cold sore or pimple, negative skin conditions are frustrating and often difficult to treat. Cold sores can be especially troublesome. While there’s no doubt that cold sores are no fun to deal with, unfortunately most people experience them at one time or another during their lifetime. Not only are cold sores painful, they’re also unattractive and embarrassing. If you’re suffering from cold sores, you’ll want to understand how long it takes for them to run their course and also what you can do to accelerate the healing process so you can be back to normal as soon as possible.

Not Only Are Cold Sores Painful, They're Also Unattractive and Embarrassing

In this article, we’ll go over the five cold sore stages so you can determine where you are in the healing process and decide which treatment options are best for your specific situation.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) are fluid-filled blisters that usually form around the mouth. They can be painful and unsightly, but typically go away with the passage of time.

What causes cold sores?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV. Cold sores come from type 1 of the herpes simplex virus, while genital herpes are usually brought on by type 2 HSV. While genital herpes are generally caused by sexual contact, cold sores can be spread by kissing, and by sharing cups or eating utensils. The herpes simplex virus is extremely common. In fact, the Mayo Clinic says 90 percent of all adults test positive for the virus. While not all who have the virus will show signs, those with the virus may experience a cold sore flare up as a result of a severe cold, stress, dental work, or sun exposure.

Cold Sores Can Be Spread by Kissing

What are the 5 cold sore stages?

There are five general cold sore stages. They are as follows:

  • Stage 1: The tingling or prodromal stage
  • Stage 2: The blister stage
  • Stage 3: The oozing and ulcer stage
  • Stage 4: The scabbing and itching stage
  • Stage 5: The healing stage
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Stage 1: The tingling or prodromal stage

Tingling often occurs about one day before a blister appears. However, the tingling stage can last up to two days.

Stage 2: The blister stage

On day two or three, one or more fever blisters (or cold sores) appear. They may be filled with fluid and you may feel a lot of built up pressure.

Stage 3: The oozing and ulcer stage

On about the fourth day, your blisters may begin to burst and ooze, creating ulcers (or open sores). This stage can be one of the most painful.

Stage 4: The scabbing and itching stage

On days five through eight, the open sores will begin to heal, turning into crusty scabs. Scabbing can lead to cracks that often bleed. Scabs will usually be yellow or brown in color.

Stage 5: The healing stage

On days nine through twelve, your skin will begin to naturally heal. The scabs will begin to fall away leaving flaky skin and tender pink areas where fresh new skin has grown.

What are the best cold sore treatments?

Before treating your cold sore, you’ll want to determine whether it is a cold sore or pimple. Cold sores are usually itchy and tingly, while pimples are typically only painful to the touch.

In order to effectively treat a cold sore, it’s best to catch it as early in the cold sore stages as possible. If you can catch it at the tingle stage, you’ll be better off. Taking an amino acid (like L-Lysine) orally at the first sign of discomfort can often provide quick relief. After oozing has occurred, a topical ointment might serve to provide soothing relief as well as anti-inflammatory benefits and antibacterial protection. Once scabs have formed and fallen off, flaky skin can be treated with a mild moisturizer.

What are the best cold sore treatments?

Here is a list of some of the best cold sore treatments:

  • Topical ointments and creams
  • L- Lysine (an amino acid taken orally)
  • Certain medicated lip balms
  • Hot or cold compresses
  • Moisturizer after scabs have fallen away