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How long do Cold Sores Last?

Cold sores (herpes labialis) usually go away within 1-2 weeks (some may last for up 15 days or more), but they can be treated with antiviral medications, or topical antiviral creams such as Blister Balm® External Analgesic Ointment, to reduce pain and shorten healing time.

A man touching his lips wondering if the tingle feeling indicates a cold sore.


Unfortunately, cold sores are complex and to truly answer the question it’s important to learn how long a cold sore is contagious and the stages of a cold sore to know when you can expect the visual appearance of a cold sore to be unnoticeable.

How long is a cold sore contagious?

Cold sores are highly contagious from the time the first symptom appears. If you feel an unexplained tingling around your mouth you may be experiencing an early stage cold sore. The tingling is usually 1–2 days before the sore becomes visible with one or more fluid-filled blisters on the surface of the skin. When a blister breaks open it has entered the weeping stage also known as the “ulcer stage”. In a few days the crusting stage also known as the “scabbing stage” starts the transitional period from weeping to healing. The blister will scab over and slowly disappear by flaking away. It is common to think that a cold sore isn’t contagious any more once it has scabbed, but this isn’t the case.

A man touching his lips looking at a diagram of the different stages of a cold sore.


You are still contagious until the cold sore completely heals. Cold sores can be spread through skin-to-skin contact like kissing, oral sex, or sharing objects such as towels, eating utensils, and straws. The virus is contracted through any break in your skin that may not even be noticeable to you.

How long does it take for cold sore swelling to go down?

Ibuprofen and naproxen can be used according to directions to reduce swelling, redness, and pain. Place ice or a cool, wet towel on the sores 3 times a day. Do this for 20 minutes each time. It may help to reduce redness and swelling. If you are just getting a cold sore, try Blister Balm® External Analgesic Ointment to reduce symptoms.

Do cold sores leave a scar?

Typically there is no scar when you AVOID touching a cold sore during its life cycle, but scars may occur from the following situations:
Although, on the positive side, the scarring is usually very minimal and only noticeable if pointed out.

In conclusion, with self-discipline a cold sore should generally last 1-2 weeks when you avoid touching or disrupting the healing process. Additionally, using antiviral medication or cream may shorten the healing time.