What is a cold sore

More than half of the inhabitants of the Netherlands are carriers of the herpes virus and develop cold sores once or more often per year. A cold sore is harmless and will go away on its own within one to two weeks. Cold sores keep coming back because the herpes virus remains in your body your entire life, and there is nothing you can do about it.

What is a cold sore

A cold sore is an infection of the lips or the skin around them with the herpes virus. A few days before a blister filled with fluid develops, a spot appears that burns, itches or hurts. This spot will swell and look red. The spot will contain small blisters filled with fluid (which contains the virus). Sometimes the small blisters together form a somewhat larger bladder. The skin around it looks red. After two days, the blisters dry up and scabs form, which disappear completely after a week.
Someone who gets a fever blister once will also get it again more often, sometimes a few times a year. The virus spreads through kissing and hugging and is contagious. The first infection often occurs at preschool age and usually there are no complaints. Painful blisters often appear in the mouth the first time someone becomes infected.
When the fever blister disappears, the virus remains in the nerve cells. Here it stays until the next time someone gets a fever blister. Once you are infected, you will never get rid of the virus.

Symptoms at a glance

  • When resistance is reduced, the virus becomes active and spreads via the nerve endings to the skin around the lips
  • stinging, burning and itching around or on your lip.
  • Then redness and swelling
  • Vesicles with fluid, these contain the virus.
  • Vesicles open and dry.
  • Scabs
  • Wounds heal after one to two weeks.



Complications can arise if a second infection occurs. This usually happens if the normal immune system is disrupted, such as in the case of AIDS, or if the infection spreads to other parts of the body due to insufficient hygiene. This often concerns eye infections, first the cold sore and then the eyes, or has just cleaned the lenses while a cold sore is present. A second infection then happened in no time. If someone has eczema on the face, the cold sore virus can spread quickly.

Triggering factors for getting a cold sore

  • fever,
  • reduced resistance,
  • period,
  • a lot of time in the sunbed.


Risk of contamination

It is contagious until the blisters have dried. By observing good hygiene you can try to prevent infecting someone else or yourself in other places. Also be careful with infants, their resistance is much lower and infections are often serious. Breastfeeding is allowed if there are no blisters around the nipple.


Try to touch the blisters as little as possible and wash your hands often. If you wear contact lenses, do not clean them with saliva to prevent contamination of the eye. Avoid cuddling. There is no real cure for a cold sore, but you can use Vaseline cream to keep the skin supple and soft or zinc oil to dry the blisters.

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