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The 8 Cold Sore Stages (and What To Expect While Yours Is Healing)

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It is estimated that up to 90% of adults have the cold sore virus (HSV-1) and 50% of people will contract the virus by the time they are in Kindergarten!

While not everyone who has this virus will get a cold sore, most HSV-1 sufferers will have to deal with at least one cold sore in their lifetime.

In this article we will go over the approximate timeline for a cold sore, and what 8 cold sore stages to expect.

Because, if you have to deal with a cold sore, you may feel better knowing just how close you are to having it gone.

Also Read: How to get rid of Cold Sores: 8 tips

Also Read: How to prevent Cold Sores 9 ways

Also Read: Are Cold Sores Contagious?: How to protect yourself and others

1. Incubation period

When you first come into contact with the virus there will be a period of time that the virus is replicating and you do not notice any symptoms.

This is the incubation period and can be anywhere between 2-12 days, with most people averaging 4 days in this stage.

2. Initial warning signs

After the virus has replicated enough to cause symptoms, you will enter the initial warning sign stage.

In this stage, you may notice a tingling, itching, or red and swollen sensation around the lip area for 1-2 days.

These warning signs are generally subtle, so be on the lookout for any changes in the sensation of the area.

This stage is the best time to start an immune-boosting supplement like Lysine or antiviral medications like Valacyclovir.

3. Blistering

After the initial warning sign, you will likely develop one or many red, swollen, fluid-filled blisters on the area.

Do your best to avoid touching or popping these blisters as you may encourage the spread of the virus and popping them will not speed up healing.

You may take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or topical lidocaine ointment at this time for general discomfort.

Continue using your antiviral medications or creams at this time and be sure to stay hydrated.

Take care to wash your hands regularly and avoid close contact with others to avoid the spread of the virus.

This stage can generally last about 2 days.

4. Weeping

On around days 4-5 from the first sign of a cold sore, the blisters will open up and release their fluid.

This is a sign that the sores are beginning to heal themselves.

Take extra care to avoid contact with others at this time, as the weeping stage and the contained fluid are highly contagious.

Continue using pain relief and antiviral medications during this stage if needed.

5. Crusting

On days 5-8 from the start of the sore, the oozing should stop and a crust will form over the area.

Avoid picking or peeling the area during this stage.

During this stage, the pain should be lessening, but you may continue OTC pain relievers as needed.

You are almost there!

6. Healing

After the crusting stage, the area will form a scab.

Do not pick at the area and allow the scab to shrink and fall off naturally.

You may use moisturizing lip treatments at this time to prevent lips from cracking and feeling dry around the healing area.

After 1-2 weeks from the beginning of the cold sore, the area should be entirely healed and you are at the end of the more active cold sore stages.

7. Dormancy

Once the cold sore heals the virus will retreat and lay dormant in your nerves.

During this time you will not notice any unusual symptoms.

The virus may stay in this dormant stage indefinitely, or become active again during a recurrence.

There is no cure for HSV-1, so if you have ever had a cold sore, but do not have one now, it is in the dormant stage.

8. Recurrence

Once you have the HSV-1 virus, there is a chance of recurrence.

These recurrences generally occur after a triggering event such as:

  • Stressful situations
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Certain food allergies
  • Poor sleep
  • A recent illness
  • Extreme sun/wind/cold

After a recurrence, think back to what could have triggered the cold sore to help you avoid the same triggering event.

During which stages is a cold sore contagious?

The virus is contagious during all stages.

However, HSV-1 is the least contagious during the dormancy period, and the most contagious during an active cold sore.

Take care to avoid close contact with others during an active cold sore, and do not share lip products, cosmetics, utensils, cups, clothing, or razors.

Need these stages to go quicker?

Studies show that treatment with Valacyclovir for one day was able to reduce the length of a cold sore by about 1 day when taken at the first sign.

Schedule an Online Appointment with our U.S. licensed doctors today to see if Valacyclovir is a good option for your cold sores.

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