What Causes My Cold Sores – and What Can I Do About It?

Cold sores are usually very unpleasant, causing pain and discomfort. However, the social stigma from the visible cold sores can be far worse. The sores can cause shame, fear and embarrassment, making you feel self-conscious and not wanting to go out. Children may be teased, which can lead to a loss of self-esteem.

Cause and effect

Cold sores are a very common infection caused by Herpes Simplex virus. The first or primary infection usually occurs in childhood, peaking between the ages of 2 – 31. Once infected the virus remains dormant in our bodies and then can be reactivated to cause cold sores. About a third of us will have recurrent infections, many just once or twice a year, but some may have recurrences every couple of months1.

“What causes my cold sores?” is a common question. Often cold sores are related to a period of stress, tiredness, being unwell or just being run down. The appearance of cold sores may also be linked to menstruation and pregnancy. Some people find that sunlight triggers their cold sores and gain benefit from using a sunscreen product on their lips. It might be sensible to keep your lips moisturised if you are susceptible to cold sores.

See also: Could Your Handgrip Strength Detect Diabetes?

Suspect symptoms

A cold sore usually starts with tingling and itching before a blister appears. Most people suspect when they have a cold sore coming before there are any visible signs. The fluid filled blisters will appear, ooze, and burst forming painful sores. The sores will dry out, scab over, and completely heal in about 14 days. Your cold sore can be very contagious from when the blisters form until it is fully scabbed over.

To prevent spreading cold sores to other people, you should wash your hands often and avoid skin contact with others. Make sure you do not share items that touch your mouth, such as lip balm and food utensils, with other people during an outbreak. Avoid kissing someone with an active cold sore. Be very careful not to spread it to your eyes, particularly if you use contact lenses.

Although the herpes simplex virus cannot be cured, there are several options to manage your cold sores. The pain and fever can be managed by paracetamol or ibuprofen. Some people find that lip balms or Vaseline help to prevent soreness and cracking.


Clinical studies have shown that a brief, concentrated temperature of about 51°C to the cold sore can shorten the course of the condition after outbreak and can promote faster healing. Tingling, pain, swelling, itching and tightness can all be reduced and if the concentrated temperature is applied early enough can even stop blisters from appearing.

One of these devices called HERPOtherm® is chemical-free and suitable for self-administration by children of 12 years up – which also means those who are pregnant or have allergies can use the product worry-free2.

When compared to creams containing aciclovir, clinical evidence has shown that HERPOtherm® can reduce the duration of cold sore blisters by 50% or prevent the development completely, if applied early enough2.

Discreet device

The HERPOtherm® device is convenient, discreet and is very easy to use. Simply remove the protective cap, place the device to the cold sore, making sure that the ceramic surface is placed accurately with the affected area and then activate the device by pressing the button once. The ceramic plate will health up to 51°C for three seconds, before switching off automatically.

If symptoms persist, multiple treatments to the same area of skin are possible. It is recommended that you leave at least two minutes between each application, but do not exceed the maximum of five applications on the same skin area within one hour.


  1. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summary. Available at: https://cks.nice.org.uk/herpes-simplex-oral#!backgroundSub:2 (date accessed July 2020)
  2. HERPOtherm instructions for use. Available at: https://www.herpotherm.de/files/downloads/Herpotherm_Instructions.pdf (date accessed July 2020)

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