Cold Sores on Lips – Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Is it Herpes?

What are Cold Sores?

Cold sores are painful blisters that usually appear on cheek, chin, lips, mouth and less frequently on genitals and buttocks. They usually cause itching, pain or burning sensation before they burst. Cold sores clear up on its own within 7-10 days and don’t require treatment. Certain home remedies and medications are available to treat cold sores. Cold sores are highly contagious and can be easily passed through close contact.

cold sores - symptoms, causes, treatment

Cold sores are often called fever blisters. Mostly it occurs if you are already suffering from viral fever. Most common cause of cold sores is herpes simplex virus HSV-1 (oral herpes) and HSV-2 (genital herpes). From both of them, HSV-1 is most common in many cases. Few other causes include hormonal changes, fever/flu, stress, weak immune system, etc. It has different symptoms such as a sore throat, swollen gums, mouth pain, etc. but in few cases, it doesn’t show any symptoms.

Few preventive tips for cold sores include avoid heavy sun exposure, use sunscreen, reduce stress, take antiviral medicines as prescribed, take enough rest, avoid skin contact with other people, avoid kissing or engaging in other intimate activities, wash hands frequently especially before touching cold sore, always use cotton to apply creams, oils or ointments in the sores, wash hands immediately after touching the sores, maintain hygiene, etc.

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. Prevention
  4. Home Remedies
  5. Treatment Options
  6. Bottomline
  7. Patients Queries
  8. Reference


  • Lip swelling
  • A sore throat
  • Swollen gums
  • Mouth/tongue pain
  • Lesions, blisters or ulcers on the tongue/mouth
  • Painful, itching or burning sores
  • Dehydration
  • A headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain
  • Tiredness
  • Possible swallowing difficulties
  • Tingling/itching in the area of previous outbreak
  • Swollen glands
  • High body temperature


The most common cause of cold sores is Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). HSV is of 2 types HSV-1 and HSV-2; both are highly contagious viruses and can be easily transmitted from one person to another after close contact. Few other causes of cold sores include:

  • Fever/cold/flu
  • Weak immune system
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • UV rays (exposure to the sun)
  • Trauma to the skin


  • Avoid heavy sun exposure
  • Use sunscreens
  • Take antiviral medicines as prescribed
  • Reduce stress
  • Take enough rest
  • Replace your lip balm or lipstick
  • Avoid skin contact with other people
  • Replace your toothbrush
  • Avoid kissing or engaging in other intimate activities.
  • Avoid sharing lip balm, towels, cutlery, etc. with others
  • Wash hands frequently especially before touching cold sore
  • Always use cotton to apply creams, oils or ointments in the sores.
  • Wash hands immediately after touching the sores
  • Avoid trauma to the mouth or involved area
  • Maintain hygiene
  • Avoid touching other parts of the body such as the genitals, eyes, etc.
  • Avoid salty, acidic or any type of food that irritate sores.

Home Remedies

1. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has antifungal, antibiotic and antiviral properties. It has hundreds of health benefits and treating cold sores is one of them. It contains medium chain triglycerides such as capric acid and lauric acid, which helps to kill the virus and treat cold sores more quickly. Apply coconut oil directly to the cold sore with a cotton swab, leave it and repeat it daily few times.

2. Milk

Milk has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is a very good treatment for cold sores and also very soothing for the skin. Soak a cotton ball in 1 tsp of milk and apply it on the cold sore. Hold it over the sore for few minutes; it will help to relieve the pain. Do this daily 4-5 times a day, for few days.

3. Honey

Honey is one of the very effective remedies to treat cold sores. It has antimicrobial properties hence heals the infected sore quickly. It helps in reducing pain and duration of cold sores. Apply the honey directly on the sore and leave it there for few minutes. Rinse with water. Do this twice or thrice daily for few days.

4. Tea Bags

Tea bags are one of the best-known home remedies used for the treatment of cold sores. Soak a tea bag in hot water and then let it cool. Apply the tea bag directly to the cold sore. Hold it there for few minutes. Repeat this process every 2 hours and remember using fresh tea bag each time. Do this daily for few days to get desired results.

5. Ice

Applying the ice directly to the cold sore helps to reduce pain, swelling, inflammation, and itching. It helps to heal the sores. Apply ice cube directly to the cold sore, hold it there for 1-2 minutes. Do this daily few times a day.

Treatment Options

Treatment of cold sores depends upon its causes. The most common cause is Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) and few other causes such as hormonal changes, weak immune system, stress, etc. In most of the cases, cold sores clear up on its own within 1-2 weeks and don’t require any treatment. Various Home remedies are available for the treatment of cold sores such as ice pack, honey, milk, aloe vera, coconut oil, tea bag, etc. Certain medications are also used for the proper treatment of cold sores, it includes:

Oral antiviral medications: Oral antiviral medicines are used in the treatment of herpes simplex virus. These medicines are prescribed to speed up the healing process and decrease the pain related to cold sores. It includes famciclovir (Famvir), acyclovir (Zovirax) and valacyclovir (Valtrex).

Antiviral Medications: Over the counter antiviral creams helps to reduce the duration of infection. The cream helps to decrease the symptoms but can’t prevent the virus. It includes penciclovir (Denavir 1% cream) and acyclovir (Zovirax 5% cream). The cream should be applied 4-5 times a day for few days.

Over-the-counter Treatments: It helps to relieve the symptoms of cold sore but doesn’t speed up the healing process. It reduces pain, dryness, and itching of sores. These creams don’t contain antiviral medications. It includes Blistex, Bonjela, Cymex or Abreva.

Painkillers: Medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin are very helpful to reduce the pain. Remember any of these medications should be used according to package instructions.


Cold sores is an infectious and contagious condition. However, you can prevent it with proper hygiene measures. In most cases, the sores are cured within 10-12 days. You can also get rid of it using the home remedies listed above. If the symptoms are not improved, you should consult a doctor and follow his advice for the correct treatment.

Patients Queries

Is Cold sore a contagious disease?
Yes, since it is caused by a virus – the disease is contagious.

Share your feedback about this post...