What a cold sore feels like?

Understanding Cold Sores and Their Symptoms

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are painful and unsightly blisters that appear on or around the lips or mouth. Most people experience them at some point in their lives. In this article, we will explore what a cold sore feels like, the symptoms associated with cold sores, and treatment options available for this condition.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 67% of the global population under the age of 50 has oral herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is the leading cause of cold sores. It is important to note that cold sores are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact, such as kissing or sharing utensils.

What Triggers a Cold Sore Outbreak?

Most people who contract herpes simplex virus type 1 are asymptomatic and may not even know they have the virus. However, certain triggers can cause the virus to become active and cause a cold sore outbreak. These triggers include:

  • Fever or illness
  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Exposure to sun or cold weather
  • Chapped lips
  • Weakened immune system

It is important to note that cold sores are different from canker sores, which are not contagious and typically appear inside the mouth.

What Does a Cold Sore Feel Like?

When the virus becomes active, symptoms usually begin with a tingling or burning sensation around the mouth or lips. This sensation may be accompanied by itching or a prickling feeling. Over time, small, fluid-filled blisters may appear, which can be painful and tender to the touch. These blisters may merge and form a larger sore, which can take several days or even weeks to heal.

Cold sores can also cause other symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache

The severity and duration of cold sore symptoms can vary from person to person and depend on several factors, including the strength of the immune system and the location of the outbreak.

How Are Cold Sores Treated?

There is no cure for cold sores, but treatment can help reduce symptoms and speed up healing time. Over-the-counter creams and ointments, such as docosanol or acyclovir, can help relieve pain and itching and may even help prevent the virus from spreading.

Prescription antiviral medications, such as valacyclovir, can also be effective in treating cold sores. These medications work by preventing the virus from replicating and can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.

Other home remedies, such as applying a cold, damp cloth to the affected area or using a lip balm containing sunscreen, can also help reduce symptoms and prevent future outbreaks. It is important to keep the affected area clean and dry and avoid touching or picking at the sores to prevent the virus from spreading.

Preventing Cold Sore Outbreaks

While there is no surefire way to prevent cold sore outbreaks, there are measures you can take to reduce your risk of contracting the virus and minimize the frequency and severity of outbreaks.

These measures include:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who have active cold sores
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Avoiding sharing utensils or personal items with others
  • Taking steps to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep and practicing relaxation techniques
  • Using lip balm with sunscreen to protect your lips from sun exposure


Cold sores are a common and uncomfortable condition that can be caused by the herpes simplex virus. Understanding the triggers and symptoms of cold sores can help you take steps to prevent outbreaks and seek appropriate treatment if necessary. If you experience symptoms of a cold sore, it is important to seek medical advice and take steps to prevent the virus from spreading to others.


  • Q: Is it possible to get cold sores on other parts of the body?
  • A: While cold sores usually appear on or around the lips or mouth, it is possible to get them on other parts of the body as well, such as the fingers or nose.
  • Q: Are cold sores contagious?
  • A: Yes, cold sores are highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with someone who has an active outbreak.
  • Q: What can I do if I frequently get cold sores?
  • A: If you are prone to getting cold sores, there are measures you can take to minimize the frequency and severity of outbreaks, such as avoiding triggers, taking antiviral medication, and using cold sore creams or ointments.
  • Q: Can cold sores be cured?
  • A: While there is no cure for cold sores, treatments can help reduce symptoms and speed up healing time.


  • Mayo Clinic. (2021). Cold sore. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cold-sore/symptoms-causes/syc-20371017
  • World Health Organization. (2021). Herpes simplex virus. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/herpes-simplex-virus