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Cartersville Medical Center

Symptoms of Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Type 1)

The first exposure to the virus may result in a blistering rash in the mouth and/or lips with a body-wide, flu-like illness. This first outbreak of cold sores is usually gone within 7-10 days, but it can last up to 20 days. The sores can also develop in other locations on the skin.

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The symptoms of the first outbreak are:

  • A blistering, painful rash of small ulcerations across the lips, gums, tongue, and the inside of the mouth. This is more common in children.
  • Pain and blistering on the soft roof of the mouth, tonsils, and throat, which is more common in adults.
  • Flu-like symptoms:
    • Sore throat
    • Fever
    • Decreased energy
    • Muscle aches and pains
    • Swollen glands in the neck

After these initial symptoms, the virus may lie quietly in the nerves until it is reactivated. This may happen due to stress or illness. Direct sunlight, a weakened immune system, and menstruation can also trigger reactivation.

If reactivated, the virus will come out as a cold sore . A few days before the sore appears, you may notice some itching, burning, or pain in the area. Some people have outbreaks regularly. Some never have another symptom after the initial infection.

The symptoms of an active cold sore are:

  • Small, painful, fluid-filled, red-rimmed blisters
  • After a few days, the blisters dry and form a scab
  • Scabs heal in about five days, usually without scarring or loss of sensation

Revision Information

  • Herpes: Symptoms. American Academy of Family Physicians. Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated December 2010. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • Herpes labialis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 30, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • Herpes simplex. DermNet NZ website. Available at: Updated December 29, 2013. Accessed February 17, 2014.

  • Kuehl B. Cold sores: how to prevent and treat them. Skin Care Guide website. Available at: Accessed February 17, 2014.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Cartersville Medical Center does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.