Cold Sore Lips: Causes, Symptoms, Risks, Treatments

Updated: September 25, 2019
Cold Sore Lips

One very common but unrecognized skin health issue is cold sores or fever blisters. It is very common but often remains undetected as most of the time the infected individual does not show the related symptoms. The virus of the disease just lazes around your body.

But, many face its adversaries and at a frequent rate. And, as the disease is incurable, the pain remains throughout the life.

Read Also: Use These Home Remedies to Treat Your Cold Sore

So, for those who have or who think they may have and who do not have it yet here is a few words. Everyone is at risk of getting infected with this virus as it is highly contagious.

What Are Cold Sore Lips?Cold Sore Lips

Cold sore or also known as fever blisters is a medical condition located on one’s nerves in lips. It is caused by a virus infection upon contact with it. Cold sores are like tiny blisters that appear around the lips of someone affected. They are tiny and filled with fluid forming in a cluster at the edge of your bottom lips. At a time, they appear at one spot. And they may feel tingling and itching or maybe burning in the area. With time the clusters will pop, form a crust and go away. All of that will happen in a span of the 2-4 week time. This virus is also contagious and spreads through body fluid.

How Is Common It?

In a study, it shows that 8 out of 10 people have the virus causing cold sores. And most people get their first infection before they turn 10. It is very common and relatively manageable and less life-threatening in most cases. With time and a bit of care, they can be handled easily. But, they will never be cured for good.

World Health Organization report says around two-thirds of adults aged 50 and older have HSV-1. The University of Michigan’s Health Service claims 50 percent of American kindergarten-age children already have HSV-1. These numbers are huge. One good news is that most of the infected people do not show the symptoms. So, despite having the virus they can live a normal pain-free life.

The virus remains in a sleeping state thus undetected. And that is where the main problem or cause of spreading comes as most people don’t know if they are infected or not.

Things can take a turn for the worse if not treated in time and if the infected have some already present issues, turning it into a serious illness. So, before the time runs out, detect it and treat it.

How Does It Happen?

Medically speaking cold sores or fever blisters are caused by Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) or also known as Human Herpes Virus (HHV-1). The virus damages the skin as it reproduces making it swollen weepy sores.

The virus is contagious and can be spread through fluids. Most likely it passes when the infected person kisses any other person. The virus often lives in the saliva even when there are any outbreaks or not. Sharing kitchen utensils, glasses, toothbrush, razors or makeup may lead to it. Sometimes, oral sex can also cause partner’s genital infection.

The name may be cold sore or fever blister but do not blame the cold. It is not the cause but the trigger and also symptom. The blisters are just outbreaks and in the interval of every outbreak the virus simply just hides inside the nerve cells sleeping. That is why when one is once infected they get infected again and again as the virus never dies and one is never cured completely.

Not all get them (but only the unlucky ones). It is still not sure why but it is thought maybe because of an individual’s genes. In another study, it showed about 90% of adults across the globe test positive for the virus of cold sore but most likely most of them will never show the symptoms but some may deal with recurring breakouts.

Where Do the Cold Sores or Fever Blisters Occur?

Around the lips are the most common place for the HSV-1 virus to show up but sometimes it may occur inside the mouth. In other cases, the infected person also gets blisters around the cheeks, chin or nose. It can also happen in the tongue.

Most people cold sores reappear at the same spot each time. Either than that of lips, other areas are not that common. Your eyes can become a victim too. In worsts cases, the virus attacks the brain also causing Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE), a rare neurological disorder characterized by inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

There is also a Type 2 of this virus that affects the area near genitals and rectum. And is sexually transmitted.

What Are The Risks?

They can get spread to another area of the infected body and is contiguous so others may get the virus too. Spreading throughout one’s body is rare but it can happen if you touch a cold sore and then again touch a broken skin or a mucous membrane. The mucous membrane is the moist, protective lining found in the places where your body opens to the outside of mouth, nose, genitals. This can lead to herpes skin infection. To prevent this havoc from happening always wash your hands and do not touch the sores.

Another worse possibility is to have ocular herpes where it mostly affects the cornea. If it is untreated then it may lead to corneal blindness. Herpetic whitlow can be another worse condition. It affects the fingers. Kids often get it when they have cold sore but suck their thumbs or fingers. The virus is then transferred to them as well.

What Are the Symptoms?

If it is your first time being infected with HSV-1 then you may have fever, headache, nausea and vomiting. The swelling can be painful and can also get open sores in the mouth. Some get a sore throat as well. The symptoms show within a week of exposure to the virus.

And these symptoms can carry on to the next outbreak. There is also rash and diarrhoea. One can also suffer muscle pain, joint pain, headache and tiredness. The initial outbreak is mostly the most severe and painful one.

The Life Span of This Virus

The American Academy Of Dermatology notes that the first outbreaks appear within 2-20 days after exposure to the virus. Then the symptoms are seen at the onset of the cold sores and can last up to 3-4 days.

The HSV-1 spends most of its lifetime inactive in its residing body’s facial nerve cells and usually breakouts when the body fell sick or somehow the immune system is weakened.

There can be a sense of burning or tingling around the edge of lips, 24-48 hours before they emerge. Then the bumps occur. They can be red or inflamed. They soon appear as the multiple connected blisters. The bumps are clear at first and as the immune cells fight off the infection they become cloudy. And, soon they will pop and release infected fluid. Once drained it often dries up eventually crusting with a scab on the skin. The incrustation or the scab has to be kept in check so that it is not affected by outside bacteria and so that the virus does not spread.

The whole process of clearing the sores normally takes up to 7-10 days. However, the wounds may take several weeks to heal. 25% percent of time or cases one will face the infection at the same place where they happened before.

What Makes Them Appear?

People do not usually get the cold sore at the first attack but it appears when HSV-1 reactivates later in life. Many things like illness, stress, poor nutrition or sunlight exposure can be the trigger.Cold Sore Lips

Even dental procedures that stretch the lip may trigger the virus, occasionally. Or sometimes there is no particular reason it appears just because it is there. (So, it is better not to have it there. Keep safety.)

People with weak immune system and other medical problems will face this more often and is highly at risk to get infected in other parts of the body.

Menstruation, general illness (from mild illnesses to serious conditions), fatigue, physical or emotional stress, Immunosuppression due to AIDS or such medications as chemotherapy or steroids, trauma to the affected area, including sexual activity can also be the triggers.

For some, they can only face it once or twice in life. Some people get cold sores twice a year or less. For others, it’s a monthly ordeal

Canker Sores and Cold Sores: Two Individual Problem

Cold sores usually appear on your lip. Canker sores stay inside. They affect the inside of your mouth. They don’t involve the herpes virus and aren’t contagious. No one knows what causes them yet. Some say it is because of deficiency of Vitamin C or when your body has too much Vitamin C. But, all of these are a just untested theory.Cold Sore Lips

Cold sores generally signal their arrival with a warning period of red, irritated skin. Blisters form, burst, and then crust over before they heal. Often children’s herpes infection is regarded as canker sores so have them checked just in case.

When Is It Contagious the Most?

From the time your skin turns itchy or red, the virus is likely present on the surface and you can spread it anytime just with a touch. You’re most contagious when blisters show up and just after they burst. Once the skin gets completely healed and is back to normal again, the virus doesn’t get spread that way anymore. But, you can pass the virus through your saliva at any time, even when you don’t have a cold sore or fever blister appeared on the sight.

Treatments for Cold Sore Lips

The first outbreak can take up to 2 weeks to heal while the after ones will not exceed one week likely. There is no permanent cure for this disease but the thing can be done to ease the pain. And not all treatment works for everybody, they differ. For a medicinal approach, one can try things like applying over-the-counter creams and gels, cold or hot compress, etc.

They will reduce the healing time and help to deal with the pain but it is better to have them applied to the very first sight of an outbreak.

Few recommended names are Docosanol cream (Abreva) which is available over the counter and Acyclovir (Zovirax) cream and penciclovir (Denavir) cream are available by prescription. Lysine cream or I-lysine supplements may boost immune system and aid cell repair. Milk contains I-lysine and antibodies.Cold Sore Lips

Hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol cleans the cold sores killing the virus. So, does zinc oxide creams. Pain and inflammation-reducing medication can also help, like ibuprofen.

Soak a cotton ball with 100% pure vanilla extract. It is a natural anti-virus that can help. Apply and hold onto the affected area for about a minute. Do this 3-4 times a day and you will get relief in a few days.

Mix 1Tbsp of liquorice extract with ¼ to ½Tsp of petroleum jelly and apply a thin coat on the affected area. Licorice extract contains glycyrrhizic acid which is considered as an antiviral. You can directly add liquorice powder into water or petroleum jelly and apply on the infected area.

Lip balms that have 1% of lemon balm or drinking lemon tea and using lemon tea compress can help. Peppermint, mint and witch hazel oil are good products. Good old trusty Aloe Vera Gel will soothe the inflamed sores and provide crucial moisture at the same time. Herbs like rhubarb and sage can make a good mixture for remedy.

Vitamin E helps with body damage by repairing damaged cells and growing a new one. You can find vitamin E in nuts, whole wheat, and leafy greens and also vitamin E oils.

Also, vitamin C boosts white cells levels which are the main infection-fighting cells our protector so they help against cold sores and their appearance. Berries, tomatoes, peppers, kiwis, broccoli and spinach are a good source of vitamin C. Often red, orange or deep green colour natural foods are rich in vitamin C.

Applying ice helps. A paste of equal cornstarch and water can do too. Echinacea is an immune booster. And do not touch the sores.


It is near to impossible to cure or control it. All you can do is to keep them at bay by knowing your triggers and avoid them at any cost.

Use sunscreen and lip balms with SPF and stay away from the sun as much as possible.Cold Sore Lips

Do not get stressed as it is also a trigger. And stay healthy to maintain a strong immune system. Plenty of sleep, regular exercise and drinking a good amount of water are needed to stay healthy. When you sleep use extra pillows to alleviate your head so the fluid does not get settled overnight as well as get drained.

Cosmetic procedures like laser, peels and microdermabrasion can trigger the virus. Consult a dermatologist beforehand.

Use lip cosmetics after your sores are gone so that they don’t get infected. And make sure they are safe and do not trigger your conditions. For safety reasons do not use other cosmetics.

When you are eating with cold sores or in any other cases do not open your mouth stretching it too much. As it can worsen the situation and increase pain. Avoid eating acidic, salty, or roughly textured food that can stress or irritate the sores.

Wash hands frequently and immediately after touching them. Keep the blisters clean too by sterilising them at times. Use sterile cotton to apply ointments, creams, oil or other treatment, whichever you are doing. And dab it rather than rubbing.

Should You See A Doctor?

Well, you may if you want to. To know if you are affected or not and to get a prescribed medicine or two. But, you must see a doctor when your immune system is weakened when your sores are not healing even after 2 weeks. If your symptoms are severe and they are growing and spreading. If your eyes get the effect or they are itching. Do not delay than at all. And if you get severe or frequent cold sore outbreak then you must consult a doctor and get completely diagnosed and treated well.

Living with the Herpes Virus: Care Is Needed

No matter how much doctors and physicians and friend say it is not a big deal but the thing is it is quite disturbing. Knowing there is a contagious disease living in your body and that it can be spread to others is not easy to live with every day. One may even feel guilty. Also, having ugly blisters and its mark on the face for weeks is also disturbing not to mention the pain. And, it may conflict on your daily life. So, if you can keep it at least under control your life may get easy. Thus, you may not spread it and may not get infected often. Carry your own bag with dignity.

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We research the product’s literature from the trusted sources. We frequently refer many leading publications – Elle, Allure, Cosmopolitan, She Knows, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Best Reviews, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Vouge, Buzzfeed, etc.

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It’s better to note that every product does not work for everyone. The result may be varied for different skin tones, types, and conditions. So, often your dermatologist may give you the better recommendations which product you should use for your skin.


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