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HealthInfo Canterbury

Cold sores

Kōmaoa

Cold sores are small blisters on your lip or around your mouth. They're caused by the herpes simplex virus. Cold sores are also known as facial herpes and fever blisters.

If you get the virus, it stays in your system for the rest of your life. It hides in your nerve cells and can become active again. Most people don't get cold sores again, or get just a few, but some have regular flare-ups.

Symptoms of cold sores

Cold sores often start with a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your mouth. Small fluid-filled sores then appear, usually on the edges of your lip.

Treating cold sores

Cold sores usually go away by themselves in seven to 10 days without treatment.

If you start using it early enough, povidone iodine 10% ointment (Betadine) may make a cold sore go away faster. You can buy this cream at most supermarkets and pharmacies without a prescription or your GP can write a prescription for you.

Antiviral tablets may be used for severe cold sores. If you get lots of cold sores, you could talk to your GP about taking antiviral tablets daily. This can help prevent future cold sores.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022

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Page reference: 180573

Review key: HICOS-180573