A complete guide to cold sores and how to treat them fast

Your go-to guide.

09 Apr 2018

Most of us have fallen victim to a pesky cold sore over the years and even if you've been #blessed enough to avoid one so far, you'll still want to read this. Why? Because like needy ex boyfriends and dating app duds, they can strike at any time and can be a pain in the a** to get rid of.

We've called on the doctors at AXA PPP Healthcare and Lloyds Pharmacy’s pharmacist, Nitin Makadia, to break down everything you need to know about cold sores, including what on earth they are and how you can get rid of them in record time.

Simon Emmett

What on earth is a cold sore?

Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth. They are caused by the herpes simplex virus (not as scary as it sounds), and usually clear up without treatment within 7 to 10 days.

Do I have one? How would I know it's a cold sore and not just a spot?

There are no symptoms when a person first becomes infected with the herpes simplex virus (oh, great). Cold sore outbreaks occur some time later (so basically when it's too late). Cold sores often start with a tingling, burning or itching sensation around the mouth. This is then followed by the appearance of small, fluid-filled sores a few days later.

Now for the important part: "The herpes simplex virus is contagious when a cold sore is present and can be passed from one person to another by close direct , such as kissing," explain the experts. "After the virus has been contracted, the virus remains inactive, with occasional flare-ups. How often these flare ups occur varies from person to person. The virus can be activated by certain things; again, this varies from person to person but examples are fatigue, injury to the lip and even hormonal changes, especially for women."

Can it be treated?

Cold sores usually clear up themselves after 7 to 10 days without treatment (phew). However, if you want to banish a cold sore fast then you'll be pleased to hear that there are antiviral creams and patches available over the counter without the need for a prescription (we like or treatment). "When correctly used, symptoms can be reduced and healing times quickened," explain the experts. "To be effective, these treatments should be applied as soon as the first signs of a cold sore appear, which is usually a tingling, itching or burning sensation. Using antiviral cream after this won’t have much effect."

Nitin’s top tips and advice for cold sores

START TREATMENT: Start cold sore treatment at the first sign of infection (as soon as it starts tingling, itching or burning).

STOP SHARING: Don't share anything that comes into with the affected area, such as lipsticks or cutlery.

AVOID CLOSE CONTACT: Avoid kissing and close physical until your cold sores have completed healed.

BE CAREFUL: Be particularly careful around newborn babies, pregnant women and people with a low immune system.

WATCH OUT: If you or your child develops a gum infection during a cold sore outbreak, see your GP.