Cold Sore On Lips: Causes, Medications, Stages, Home Remedies

Dr. Bhupendra Kannojiya

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Bhupendra Kannojiya


8 min read

Key Takeaways

  • Cold sores or fever blisters are one such type of viral infection that manifest as blisters around the mouth
  • When you start showing signs, the goal should be to get rid of a cold sore fast and without risking an outbreak
  • Cold sores are caused by the HSV virus

Viral infections come in many forms and some of them have very visible symptoms. Cold sores or fever blisters are one such type of viral infection that manifests as blisters around the mouth. These sores are usually clumped together and are quite painful too. Moreover, the sores are unsightly as well and the entire condition is very contagious. It spreads quite easily through physical touch and even after treatment, there is a chance of reinfection.

Given the highly infectious nature of cold sores, you must be aware of this condition. Simply overlooking blisters around the mouth and leaving them unchecked is dangerous. It increases the chances of spreading the infection drastically. When you start showing signs of infection, the goal should be to get rid of a cold sore fast and without risking an outbreak. Ideally, this involves expert care, but it is also good to know what to look for yourself. To that end, here’s all you need to know about a cold sore on the lip, cold sore causes, and the different cold sore remedies.

What Are Cold Sores?

Cold sores or fever blisters are sores you develop on the mouth or the outside of your lip. These are quite common and are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). The sores are filled with fluid and can last a few weeks before they dry up. Note that when you are infected by herpes on the lip, there is no cure. The only solution is to manage the symptoms and control the spread of the infection. This infection also affects the genitals and can be transmitted via contact.

Causes Of Herpes Cold Sore

HSV spreads when infected individuals or objects come into touch with you. For instance, kissing someone infected or exchanging towels, razors, or eating utensils are two ways to get the disease.

Either HSV-1 or HSV-2 viruses can bring on cold sores. Both varieties may spread through oral intercourse and can result in sores on your genitalia.

Both types can be present in both places, although type 1 typically causes cold sores, and type 2 typically causes genital herpes.

An epidemic may be brought on by several factors, including:

  • Certain meals
  • Stress
  • Fever
  • Colds
  • Allergies
  • Fatigue
  • Exposure to direct sunlight or sunburn
  • Either cosmetic or dental surgery
  • Menstruation

The main cause of cold sores is the virus; however, other factors can also play a role. For instance, close contact or oral sex with the infected can also spread it to you. Almost anyone can get cold sores, but the risk is greater if you have a compromised or suppressed immune system. Conditions such as HIV AIDS, eczema, and cancer can result in complications with the virus.

Symptoms Of Herpes On The Lip

Besides the visible symptoms, the other signs that you have herpes are quite common with those of a viral infection. Here is a list of what to expect.

  • Tingling sensation on the lips
  • Red fluid-filled blisters
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Stages Of Herpes On The Lip

Once you notice any of these symptoms, you should immediately start treatment. If this is your first time contracting the infection, you may get headaches, painful gums, and a sore throat as well. Now that you know the symptoms, here are the stages of a cold sore.

  • Tingling before the cold sores erupt
  • The appearance of the blisters
  • Blisters burst and form painful sores
  • Sores dry and form an itchy scab
  • Scabs begin to fall and the cold sore starts to heal

Medications Used For Cold Sore On Lip Treatment

Medicines that contain numbing agents such as menthol and phenol help dry out sores and soften scabs. In addition to this, anesthetic gels and oral medications can also help reduce chances of reinfection and speed up healing. Certain antivirals such as famciclovir (Famvir), acyclovir (Zovirax), and valacyclovir (Valtrex) work effectively, especially within the first 48 hours.

Ointments and Creams

Antiviral ointments, such as penciclovir, may help you manage discomfort and speed up healing when cold sores annoy you (Denavir). Creams often work best when used as soon as the first indications of a sore arise. After that, they must be administered four to five times daily for four to five days.

Docosanol (Abreva) is an additional remedy. A few hours to a day might pass before an outbreak is reduced with an over-the-counter cream. Every day, multiple applications of the cream are required.

Home Remedies For Cold Sore On Lips

Applying ice or washcloths dipped in cold water to the sores might reduce symptoms. Lip balm with lemon extract is one of the alternative therapies for cold sores.

For some persons, fewer frequent breakouts are linked to regular lysine supplementation.

Aloe vera, the soothing gel found inside the aloe plant's leaves, may provide comfort for cold sores. Apply aloe vera gel or lip balm three times a day on a cold sore.

A cold sore won't necessarily heal with petroleum jelly like Vaseline, although it could feel better. However, the jelly lessens the chance of breaking. Additionally, it is a barrier to keeping out irritants from the outside world.

Witch hazel acts as a natural astringent that can hurt when applied but may help dry up and treat cold sores. In one study, researchers found that witch hazel has antiviral qualities that may stop cold sores from spreading. However, the jury is still unsure whether keeping cold sores wet or dry promotes quicker healing.

Try applying these home remedies, moisturizers, ointments or gels to cold sores using a clean cotton ball or cotton swab.

What are common cold sore remedies you can try at home?

Home remedies for cold sores generally revolve around drying up the blister. This infection takes at least two weeks to clear up, you should focus on is reducing the discomfort. Here are options you can consider.

  • Using Kanuka Honey
  • Making a tea tree oil mixture
  • Diluting apple cider vinegar to apply on the skin
  • Applying creams with lemon balm

Cold Sore Complications

Cold sore complications are uncommon, but they can occur if the infection moves to another area of your body, such as your:

  1. Fingers: Herpes whitlow is the name of this illness
  2. Genitals: On your genitalia or anus, you might have warts or ulcers
  3. Other skin regions: Consult a physician immediately if you have eczema and develop a cold sore to prevent the dangerous disorder dermatitis herpeticum. Large portions of the skin are covered in this unpleasant rash
  4. Eyes: The corneal infection HSV keratitis can result in blindness
  5. Spinal cord or the brain: Meningitis and encephalitis are severe forms of inflammation that the virus can cause, particularly in those with compromised immune systems

Cold Sore Risk Factors

90% of individuals worldwide test positive for the herpes simplex type 1 virus. Once exposed to the virus, certain factors increase the risk, such as:

  • A compromised immune system
  • Stress
  • Cold
  • Menstruation
  • Serious burns
  • Infection
  • Dental work and chemotherapy for eczema

If you kiss someone with a cold sore, share food or drink with them, or share personal care products like toothbrushes and razors, you run the chance of contracting one. Even though there aren't any apparent blisters, you can get the virus if you touch the saliva of a person who has it.

Preventing Cold Sores From Spreading

You should often wash your hands and avoid skin-to-skin contact with others to prevent transmitting cold sores to other individuals. In addition, during an epidemic, be careful not to share anything that touches your mouth, such as lip balm and eating utensils.

By becoming aware of your triggers and avoiding them, you can assist in preventing the cold sore virus from reactivating. Among some preventative advice are:

  • Apply a zinc oxide lip balm before basking in the sun if you tend to acquire cold sores outside
  • Try stress-reduction techniques like meditation and writing if a cold sore constantly emerges when you're under stress
  • Don't kiss anybody with a cold sore, and don't have oral intercourse with anyone who has genital herpes

Diagnosis And Tests For Cold Sore On Lips

By seeing the afflicted area, your doctor should be able to determine whether you're suffering from a cold sore. Additionally, they could swab the cold sore to check again for herpes simplex virus in the fluid.

If you've ever had one, you'll probably be familiar with the symptoms, which include tingling, swelling, and blistering around or on your lips. Although it isn't always essential to contact the physician if you develop a cold sore, you should go there to get a diagnosis.

Difference Between A Cold Sore And A Blister On The Lip

The first and most important difference is that a cold sore in the mouth is a canker sore, whereas a blister on the lip is herpes. A canker sore may be triggered by several factors such as nutrient deficiency, hormone fluctuations, injury in the mouth, stress, and others, and aren’t contagious. On the other hand, cold sores are caused by the HSV virus.

Treating cold sores demands quick action and any delay increases the risk of an outbreak of further spread. Cold sore treatment should thus be a priority for you, whether you opt for cold sore remedies at home using natural means or via specialized medication under a doctor’s supervision. It is also important that you don’t confuse a cold sore inside the lip to be caused by the same virus. Such assumptions can lead you self-administer the wrong medications or cold sore cream and cause further problems. Ideally, when you notice the signs, be cautious about infecting others around you and seek medical care immediately. To find the right specialist and get cold sore treatment fast, be sure to use Bajaj Finserv Health.

With Bajaj Finserv Health, you enjoy easy access to quality healthcare services right through your smartphone. With BFH, you can find the best doctors around you and also book appointments at their clinics online.

Published on 6 Jan 2021Last updated on 27 Feb 2023

Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

Dr. Bhupendra Kannojiya

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Bhupendra Kannojiya


Dr. Bhupendra Kannojiya is a Dentist based out of Bareilly and has an experience of 7+ years. He has completed his BDS from Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Rohilkhand University, Bareilly.


Health Videos

Mobile Frame
Download our app

Download the Bajaj Health App

Stay Up-to-date with Health Trends. Read latest blogs on health and wellness. Know More!

Get the link to download the app

Google PlayApp store