5 Stages of a Cold Sore Outbreak

Cold sores progress through 5 stages during a 7-10 day period. If you know what is coming, it will help you be prepared.

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Cold Sore Stage 1: Initial Symptoms

For more than 85% of cold sore sufferers, outbreaks often begin with symptoms such as a tingling, tightness, soreness, or itching around the lips (days 1-2 of an outbreak).

Cold Sore Stage 2: Progression

As the infection develops (days 2-4 of an outbreak), clumps of red, fluid-filled blisters begin to form. This is the result of the virus waking up, multiplying, and the body beginning to fight back.

Cold Sore Stage 3: Rupture

On day 4 or 5 of an outbreak, the blisters can burst open and may be very painful. At this point, the exposed and ulcerated sores will begin to scab over as the body enters the healing process.

Cold Sore Stage 4: Scabbing

Around days 5-8 of an outbreak scabs form. These are often itchy, may crack open, and can bleed. It means you're nearing the end of the flare-up, so don't pick at them.

Cold Sore Stage 5: Resolution

Once the body has the virus back under control, the scabs will begin to peel off. For most people, this occurs 8-10 days from onset of symptoms without medication. After the scabs fall off, you may notice the skin underneath is pink or reddish for a while--that is to be expected.
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