Cold Sores – Triggers, Symptoms and Prevention

Valentine’s Day Warnings

Valentines cold sores warning

14th February is Valentine’s Day, when couples celebrate their undying love for each other. Valentine’s Day can be a lovely gesture but can be a problem if you happen to have cold sores.

Cold sores are small blisters that develop on the lips and around the mouth. They usually cause tingling, itching or a burning sensation. They can be passed very easily, especially through direct contact such as kissing.

They are caused by the herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. There may be no symptoms when you are first infected, as the virus lies dormant in your nerves until it is triggered at a later date. This original, or primary, infection usually happens in early childhood when, for example, a child is kissed by a family member or friend with a cold sore.

What Are The Triggers?

Cold Sores on the lipEvery so often the virus can be activated by certain triggers. These triggers vary from person to person but can include:

  • Having another infection
  • Emotional upset or psychological stress
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • An injury to the affected area
  • Menstruation
  • Strong sunlight

However, often there is no obvious trigger for an outbreak.

How Are They Treated?

Cold sores usually clear up themselves within about 7-10 days. However there are antiviral creams, like Aciclovir or Panciclovir, that you can buy from any of our pharmacy branches without a prescription. If used correctly, these can help ease your symptoms and sped up the healing time.

To be effective you should apply these creams at the first sign that a cold sore is appearing. This is when you are feeling a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Using an antiviral cream after this initial period is unlikely to have much effect. They should be applied up to five times a day for four to five days and then discarded.

There are also cold sore patches that contain a special gel called hydrocolloid. They are effective for skin wounds and are placed over the sore area to hide it while it heals.

These treatments do not get rid of the virus or prevent future outbreaks.

How Do I Prevent The Spread Of Cold Sores?

Symptoms of Cold SoresIt is not possible to prevent he primary infection or prevent an outbreak of cold sores. You van, however, take steps to minimise the infection. Cold sores are at their most contagious when they burst until they have completely healed.

Other people should avoid contact with your cold sore, and the surrounding area, until it is completely healed. There is no need to stay away from work or your child to miss school.

Minimise The Spread Of The Cold Sore Virus

Washing handsYou can help minimise the spread of the cold sore virus by:

  • Avoid touching cold sores unless you are applying cold sore cream. Creams should be dabbed on gently rather than rubbed in, as this can further damage your skin
  • Always wash your hands before and after applying cold sore cream and after touching the affected area
  • Do not share cold sore creams or medication with other people as this can spread the infection
  • Avoid kissing and oral sex until your cold sores have completely healed
  • Be particularly careful around new born babies, pregnant women and people with a low immune system, such as those with HIV or having chemotherapy

Further Advice

For more advice about this, or any other minor ailment, ask for a chat with one of our pharmacists. All conversations can be held in one of our private consultation rooms for privacy if you prefer.


  1. What are cold sores?
  2. What causes them?
  3. What are the symptoms?
  4. How do you get cold sores?
  5. When are cold sores most cantagious?
  6. When are you most likely to become infected?
  7. What are the symptoms of the primary infection?
  8. Name two triggers for sold sores
  9. Name two ways to minimise the spread of cold sores
  10. How can you prevent them?

[expand title=”Quiz Answers”]

  1. Small blisters that develop on your lips or around your mouth
  2. Herpes simplex virus
  3. A tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth
  4. Usually following a kiss from a relative or friend, as the virus easily passes from person to person
  5. From the time they rupture until they are completely healed
  6. The primary infection is most likely to occur in early childhood
  7. Often there are none and the virus lies dormant until it is triggered later on
  8. Another infection, high temperature, stress, tiredness, an injury to the affected area, menstruation, strong sunlight, and often – no noticeable trigger
  9. Avoid touching the cold sore, wash your hands if you do, don’t share medication, lipsticks, cutlery, etc, avoid kissing and oral sex, be careful around babies, pregnant women and people with a low immune system
  10. Try to avoid the triggers and apply the antiviral cream as soon as you feel a tingle



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