Skip to main content
Cold sores

Cold sores are painful lumps or blisters on the face. They're caused by a virus and are very contagious.

A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling. Over the next day or 2, a painful lump or blister will appear on your face.

Treatments for cold sores include antiviral creams and cold sore patches you can get from a pharmacy.

Read more on the NHS website.

A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling. Over the next day or 2, a painful lump or blister will appear on your face.

Check if it's a cold sore

A cold sore usually starts with a tingling, itching or burning feeling.

Over the next 48 hours:

Cold sore on lower lipSmall fluid-filled blisters appear.

Cold sore on face just below the noseThe blisters can appear anywhere on the face.

old sore on lower lip that has become a scabBurst cThe blisters burst and crust over into a scab.

Cold sores should start to heal within 10 days, but are contagious and may be irritating or painful while they heal.

Some people find that certain things trigger a cold sore, such as another illness, sunshine or periods.

Read more on the NHS website.

Treatments for cold sores include antiviral creams and cold sore patches you can get from a pharmacy.

Self-care

Cold sores take time to heal and they're very contagious, especially when the blisters burst.

Important

Do not kiss babies if you have a cold sore. It can lead to neonatal herpes, which is very dangerous to newborn babies.


Do

  • eat cool, soft foods
  • wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cream
  • avoid anything that triggers your cold sores
  • use sunblock lip balm (SPF 15 or above) if sunshine is the trigger
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease pain and swelling (liquid paracetamol is available for children) – do not give aspirin to children under 16
  • drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration

Don't

  • do not kiss anyone while you have a cold sore
  • do not share anything that comes into contact with a cold sore (such as cold sore creams, cutlery or lipstick)
  • do not have oral sex until your cold sore completely heals – the cold sore virus also causes genital herpes
  • do not touch your cold sore (apart from applying cream)
  • do not rub cream into the cold sore – dab it on instead
  • do not eat acidic or salty food

Medical treatments

A GP may prescribe antiviral tablets if your cold sores are very large, painful or keep coming back.

Newborn babies, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system may be referred to hospital for advice or treatment.

Read more on the NHS website.