What are cold sores and how to treat them

Cold sores are unsightly and for those who have them, it can be painful too. But often people don’t realise they have cold sores. They confuse them with severe eczema and begin treating them incorrectly.

So let’s examine what they are, where they come from and how they can be treated.

Cold sores

These are usually relatively small skin eruptions.

The skin may become itchy and tingly to begin with, and then a weeping scab or blister will appear. The eruption can be quite painful to the touch or if you flex your skin around it. After around 10 days or so, the scab/blister will typically vanish of its own accord.

In the vast majority of cases, cold sores appear around the lips, the area between the upper lip and nose or around the base of the nose itself. They can though appear elsewhere.

Most people only get one small eruption at a time but more than one can happen too.

The culprit

Cold sores are caused by a virus called “herpes simplex”.

They are also highly contagious and if you have one, you should take special precautions to try and avoid passing the virus to others.

Once the virus is in the body, it will stay there forever – though that does not mean you will inevitably get cold sores.


Huge numbers of people carry this virus and never experience cold sores.

Some people that carry it also only experience these eruptions extremely rarely, while others will get them frequently. The reasons for this are unclear but may be linked to genetics.

Cold sore eruptions are also more likely in cases where:

  • you are experiencing emotional problems or stress;
  • you’re unwell with another illness, like a cold (hence the name);
  • in certain phases of a woman’s menstrual period;
  • the person affected is a heavy drinker and/or smoker;
  • taking some medications that might affect the immune system.

Again, the exact mechanisms behind eruptions are not fully understood.

Preventing cross-infection

Cold sores are highly infectious from the time the first tingling starts, through the scab and weeping phase and remain so until the scab has fully disappeared.

If you have a cold sore, you should:

  • avoid all kissing and particularly mouth-to-mouth;
  • abstain from oral sex involving contact between lips/mouth and genitals;
  • wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.

It is particularly important to avoid mouth/genital contact during the infection. The virus can lead to genital herpes which is a typically more distressing condition.

If you have cold sores, do not kiss younger babies even on the cheeks, That may lead to neonatal herpes which is a potentially very serious condition.


In the vast majority of cases, a visit to a doctor isn’t required. Your pharmacist should be able to provide a range of creams that will help with the soreness and reduce the length of the outbreak.

Some laser treatments have also been cited as being helpful. However, there is no cure for Herpes Simplex.

If your scab has not healed after around 10 days, you should consult your doctor. They may prescribe an anti-viral medication to help.


Not every skin eruption or irritation signifies a cold sore. A pharmacist will usually be able to confirm for you at a glance.

If you’re suffering from a cold sore, in addition to your pharmacist you could also contact a skin care specialist to see what treatments they might have available.

There is rapid progress in this area today and while a permanent cure isn’t yet here, some of the undesirable effects, including those that are unsightly, can be significantly alleviated.

Are you experiencing any of these symptoms? Take the skin care quiz, visit https://www.dbest.com.au/skin-care/.