A recurrence typically lasts 7–10 days. People who are prone to recurrent outbreaks tend to get them 3–4 times per year.
A recurrent cold sore usually develops as follows:
- Most people experience localised itching and tingling a day or two before the cold sore appears.
- After the tingle, small, painful, fluid-filled blisters appear on a raised, red, painful area of skin. The blisters can last for a few days.
- The blisters open and fluid weeps out. The virus can easily be spread to other people at this stage.
- The cold sore dries up and forms a scab, which can be itchy and painful. This heals in about seven days without leaving a scar.
Stop cold sores spreading
After you have been infected with the virus, there is no sure way to prevent more cold sores. But there are some things you can do to reduce your number of outbreaks and prevent spreading the virus.
- Make sure to wash your hands often, including after applying a cold sore medicine
- Avoid picking at the sores as this can spread the virus to virus to your eyes or genital area or to other people, delay healing and increase the risk of bacterial infection.
- Avoid close contact with others while you have a cold sore.
- Do not share eating or drinking utensils, toothbrushes, towels, face cloths, razors or lipstick
What can be done to prevent recurrence?
The body's defences can be strengthened by a healthy lifestyle.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques to relieve stress.
- Eat regular, healthy meals, including fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Limit foods high in fat, sugar or salt.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes on all or most days of the week.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and at least SPF 15+ sunscreen on your lips and face when in the sun. Sun protection will help prevent cold sores recurring.
However, you should consult a doctor promptly if you
- Have a cold sore that has not healed after 14 days
- Have a severe cold sore
- Have sores that spread rapidly or are widespread
- Get cold sores frequently
- Develop a high fever
- Also have another illness
- Take medicine which weakens your immune system
- Develop a painful, red, watery eye that is sensitive to light – Herpes simplex virus can cause a very serious eye infection
- Develop sores in the genital area.