Menu   WellSpan Health

Health Library

Health Library

Cold Sores

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are small blisters around the mouth, caused by the herpes simplex virus. They are sometimes referred to as fever blisters. The most common strain of the virus causing cold sores is herpes simplex virus 1. It can be spread by kissing or sharing eating utensils or even sharing towels. 

Herpes simplex is not curable, but may lie dormant for long periods of time. Episodes of the cold sores last no longer than two weeks. Hot sun, cold wind, a cold or other illness, or a depressed immune system can cause an outbreak of herpes simplex virus.

What are the symptoms of cold sores?

Some people never experience any symptoms with the first attack; others have severe flu-like symptoms and ulcers in and around the mouth. The following are the most common symptoms of cold sores. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Tingling of the lips, commonly felt before cold sores appear 

  • Small blisters on the lips and mouth that enlarge, burst, then crust over

  • Itching, dryness, and irritation of the lips and mouth

  • Soreness of the lips and mouth

The symptoms of cold sores may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for cold sores

Cold sores cannot be cured, but, if symptoms are severe, treatment may help alleviate some symptoms. Treatment may include:

  • Antiviral topical ointments (such as acyclovir and penciclovir)

  • Antiviral oral medications (such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir)

  • Over-the-counter topical anaesthetics or anti-inflammatory agents may help with symptoms  

Cold sores take approximately one to three weeks to heal. The first time they appear, they can take up to three weeks to heal; whereas when cold sores return, they usually take a week to heal if no medicines are used. According to the American Dental Association, antiviral medications may help, but they are ineffective after three to four days of blister formation and are usually not recommended for otherwise healthy people. Always consult your doctor or dentist if the sore does not heal or becomes worse as time passes.  

Cold Sores - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2013-01-17T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2013-01-25T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-11-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2013-01-25T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-06-30T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.