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Intro

Cold sore stages

A form of the herpes simplex virus called HSV-1 causes cold sores. Also known as fever blisters, cold sores usually form on or around the lips. There are typically five stages of a cold sore, ending in a blister stage.

An untreated cold sore usually lasts 8-10 days, but can remain for up to two weeks. It typically progresses through five distinct cold sore stages.

Learn more about cold sores

Find out more about herpes

Day 1

Tingle Stage

The first stage of a cold sore, this is when you'll feel those first few symptoms. It typically only lasts for a couple of hours. Your skin could feel like it's tight and itchy, and is your body’s way of responding to the HSV-1 infection.

TIPS

It’s best to start treatment at the first tingle

Pain or burning: You most likely have cold sore.

Soreness or tenderness: This is usually minor and can be the first sign of a spot.

*Laboratory results on dry, intact skin. Can vary from person to person at different stages of the cold sore.
Zovirax cold sore cream contains aciclovir. Always read the label.

TIPS

It’s best to start treatment at the first tingle

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Days 2-4

Blister Stage

The next stage in the cold sore cycle is when you first see the blister developing. The affected area becomes red and swollen and eventually fluid-filled blisters develop containing millions of virus particles. You’ll probably see a group of small, painful lumps that may multiply or grow. The surrounding skin may become red and swollen.

TIPS

Cold sores are contagious even after developing a blister

Inside: You might actually be experiencing a canker sore. These tend to appear as a sore, or tender white or yellow patch. They can be found under the tongue, inside the cheeks or lips, or on the gums or roof of the mouth. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

Outside: It is very likely this is a cold sore. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

One: If the blister is fairly firm, it is more likely to be a blemish Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

Cluster: If you have a cluster of small, softer blisters filled with clear fluid, it is more likely to be a cold sore. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

Clear. Cold sores are generally clear, as they are full of fluid. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

Coloured. Pimples aren’t clear. They tend to be red and/or yellow as they contain skin oils and bacteria. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

*Laboratory results on dry, intact skin. Can vary from person to person at different stages of the cold sore.
Zovirax cold sore cream contains aciclovir. Always read the label.

TIPS

Cold sores are contagious even after developing a blister

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Day 4

Ulcer Stage

This can be the most painful stage as the blisters burst and a shallow ulcer (open sore) develops. You may also see a red ring of inflammation around the affected area.

TIPS
This stage can be very painful

Larger area. The redness is not centered around a specific spot. Intense dryness can extend beyond the lip with irritation, pain and possibly splitting or bleeding. If this is the case, you probably have chapped lips. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

Specific spot. It’s likely you have a cold sore rather than chapped lips as cold sores usually appear in clusters. Please ask a pharmacist if you’re unsure whether you have a cold sore or not.

*Laboratory results on dry, intact skin. Can vary from person to person at different stages of the cold sore.
Zovirax cold sore cream contains aciclovir. Always read the label.

TIPS

This stage can be very painful

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Days 5-8

Scabbing Stage

This is when your cold sore dries out and forms a yellow/brown scab. Underneath the scab, wound healing of the sore takes place. As your scab shrinks, it may leave you with painful cracks that are prone to bleeding. You may also experience itching and burning.

TIPS

Don’t peel off the scab as you could damage the new, delicate skin and may leave a scar. Let the scab fall off naturally.

Don’t forget to keep using Zovirax for at least 4 days but no longer than 10 days.

*Laboratory results on dry, intact skin. Can vary from person to person at different stages of the cold sore.
Zovirax cold sore cream contains aciclovir. Always read the label.

TIPS

Don’t peel off the scab as you could damage the new, delicate skin and may leave a scar. Let the scab fall off naturally.

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DAYS 8-10

Healing Stage

As your scab starts to come off, you may notice some dry flaking and residual swelling. Your skin may also remain slightly pink or red.

TIPS

If your cold sore persists for longer than 10 days, consult your healthcare professional for advice.

*Laboratory results on dry, intact skin. Can vary from person to person at different stages of the cold sore.
Zovirax cold sore cream contains aciclovir. Always read the label.

TIPS

If your cold sore persists for longer than 10 days, consult your healthcare professional for advice.

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