Cold Sore Stages with Timeline Pictures

There are 5 cold sore stages. Understanding from the early stages to the last stages can help you apply the right remedy to get rid and heal the blisters on mouth and nose fast. Some cold sore remedies are effective at the beginning while others are not. Here is the cold sore timeline with pictures and images for different stages of a cold sore healing.

The 5 Stages of a Cold Sore

The timeline of a cold sore blister comprises 5 stages. Each stage of fever blisters has its own symptoms. These symptoms can help you identify the particular phase and apply an appropriate home remedy or prescription treatment. The Herpes simplex virus can easily spread at some stages of its development. Fever blisters are caused by type 1, HSV1. Here are the progression cold sore stages.

Stages of a cold sore Women's Health Advice
Phases of progression – Source – Women’s Health Advice
  1. The tingle stage, also called the prodrome stage
  2. Blister (a blister forms on lip, mouth or nose)
  3. Weeping or ulcer formation
  4. Crusting or scab formation
  5. Healing

1. Tingle stage (prodrome stage) – Day 1

This is the beginning stage or the first day of infection. During this phase, virus replication is at its highest. How long does the prodromal stage last? It lasts from a few hours to one day before a blister erupts (second stage). The symptoms are not very visible. You are more likely going to feel them than see them.

Symptoms of the beginning stages of a cold sore

  • A burning sensation on the affected site, usually on the lip, nose or mouth.
  • Itching, stinging or tingling with the urge to scratch.
  • A slight swelling and soreness on the site of the cold sore blister is also possible.

As this early stage of a cold sore nears its end, you are likely to see a small papule, or cluster of papules on the lip. These may look like small bumps or pimples on the lip or mouth. These symptoms are mostly signs of inflammation as your body’s immune system responds to the HSV1 virus.

Remedies at early stages

Treatment at this early stage can be effective. If you have any prescription anti-viral medication, you can take to start fighting the multiplying virus. At home, you can also apply a few home remedies that will stop the virus from growing.

  • Drink plenty of water and avoid acidic foods or substances. The virus thrives better in acidic conditions.
  • Apply some alcohol to toe inflamed area. This will keep the skin dry and inhibit the growth of the virus.

2. The blister stage – day 2 and 3

Cluster of small blisters on lip - second stage of a cold sore
Blisters appear next

This is the second stage and is also called the bubble stage. It comes with visible symptoms such as a blister (sore or lesion). There can also be a cluster of blisters or sores on the lip, mouth or nose. Each one of the blisters is fluid-filled. In some cases, the fluid inside the sores is clear but in others, it is yellowish – usually ending up in a yellow crust. (See picture above.) The fluid-filled sores are usually surrounded by a red ring or halo.

Blisters that form during this stage are painful. They may present esthetic problems as well. Eating, talking, laughing, yawning and general movement of the lips may become uncomfortable during this stage of cold sores.

  • According to Animated Teeth, “The overall size of the forming lesion generally correlates with the relative number of virions present.” Virions are the HSV1 virus particles.

What is the best treatment for the blister stage? The best home remedy to manage the pain is cold compresses or ice treatment. Gently apply ice to the blister. Be careful not to pop or burst it. Over-the-counter pain killers can also help reduce the pain and inflammation caused by the cold sores. Do not attempt to pop, burst or squeeze the blister to get rid of the fluid inside.

3. The weeping stage – day 4

The third stage is also called the bleeding stage. It is characterized by the formation of an ulcer that weeps. An open sore occurs when the blisters rapture open. After breaking, the lesion starts to ooze or leak the clear or yellow fluid. The surface of the lesion then turns grey and tender.

The weeping stage of a cold sore is the most painful. Keep in mind that the fluid that gets discharged contains a large number of newly born cold sore or herpes simplex viruses.

The contagious cold sore stages

At what stage are cold sores contagious? According to the National Health Service, “Cold sores are at their most contagious when they burst (rupture), but remain contagious until they are completely healed.” It is quite hard to avoid being infected or infecting others in the timeline when the sore bursts and starts to weep.

  • During this third stage of cold sore healing, avoid contact with others until the blisters are completely gotten rid of. Avoid kissing, sexual activity etc. These activities put others at risk of contracting the herpes simplex 1 virus.

4. Crust or scab – day 5 to 8

Cold sore stages - crusting or scabbing
Crusting or scabbing of a fever blister

Crusting or scabbing is the one of the last stages of a cold sore timeline.  A yellow crust normally forms as the fluid discharged from the previous stage dries up. Your sore might break open and start to bleed a little. The bleeding is due to the golden brown crusts shrinking and forming painful cracks on your lips or mouth. Other symptoms at this stage include burning and itching.

To manage the pain and prevent bleeding, try to moisturize the scab. It makes it easy for the crusts to fall off as the blister heals away. You can also apply a medicated lip balm to help moisturize your lips. Prevent your lips from scaling, cracking and peeling. Also, try not to peel off the scabs during such cold sore stages.

5. Healing stage of a cold sore – day 9 to 12

The last or final stage of cold sores is healing. The scabs and crusts formed during the fourth stage of a cold sore begin to fall off. A little swelling is expected, as well as some little itching and scabbing. The skin may turn pink or red on the spot where the sores had formed.

A light scar is likely to be left on the lip or on the mouth where the blister formed. This scar will go away on its own, but may take a week or two.

It is important that during the life cycle of a cold sore, you avoid kissing, sharing utensils, oral sex and other ways that can transmit the virus to other people. Touching and peeling off the scabs when they form can spread the virus to other parts of the body.

Cold sore stages in pictures and images

The different stages of cold sores appear differently. In summary, the first phase may not show any physical symptoms on the site. The second step shows a few bumps that grow into a blister. The third stage is a blister that has raptured and starts to leak or discharge infectious fluid Crusts follow on the fourth level and finally, the 5th phase is when the healing starts. Here are images and pictures to help you understand the different phases.

It starts with a tingle on the lip or mouth
It starts with a tingle on the lip or mouth.
Small blisters form
Small blisters form.
The blisters rapture and start to ooze
The blisters rapture and start to ooze

How long does it take for a cold sore to go away?

The blisters on your lips and face will undergo 5 different stages before completely healing. The process of healing, from the beginning to the last phase lasts 7 to 12 days without medication.

At some phases, as we have seen above, cold sores are highly contagious. You can transmit the virus to other people through fluid exchange. Most successful treatments for cold sores target all the 5 stages of a cold sore development.

How to Get Rid of Cold Sores Fast, Early

There are different products on the market that promise to give quick healing of cold sores on lips and mouth. Natural home remedies can also help with relieving the pain and stopping the virus. Zoviraz, Valtrex and even polysporin are said to help relieve the symptoms fast. Here are ways to get rid of cold sores fast.

1. Do not pick or pop the sores

Keep your hands off the fever blisters. It doesn’t matter what stage they are in the development timeline. The blisters are filled with virus-packed fluid. Picking and squeezing cold sores does not help them heal faster. Instead, it encourages secondary infections.

  • Trying to pop or touch these scabs and blisters can make them spread to other parts of the eye.
  • It will also slow down the healing process.

2. Vanilla extract remedy

Vanilla extract is alcohol based and can reduce the severity of the virus. It is also an anti-inflammatory home remedy that will reduce the inflammation on the infection site.

  1. Get pure vanilla extract.
  2. Using a cotton swab or q-top, apply it on the lip with a sore.
  3. Leave it for about six hours and re-do it again.

This treatment can help stop cold sores at early stages.

3. Cold compress or ice

An ice pack or cold compress will help reduce the inflammation or itchiness. This treatment can reduce the urge to pop, scratch or pick at the scabs and blisters.

Make an ice pack with a towel. Apply on the blisters and scabs to relieve the pain and itch. Do not keep the pack for long as it can burn your lip.

4. Deny the virus the environment to thrive

The herpes simplex virus thrives very well in some environments – moist and acidic. If you have ever gotten the fever blisters before, you are likely to trigger them if you eat foods such as peanuts and chocolate. Stress and exhaustion or fatigue can also activate the virus.

To stop fever blisters fast at an early stage, ensure you keep the area with a tingle dry. Maintain its pH alkaline as well to prevent or inhibit the growth and multiplication of the virus.

Eat more foods with lysine. According to Disabled World, “Lysine, another protein, has proven helpful in healing and preventing cold sores.” It reduces the amount of arginine in the cells, which in turn inhibits the cloning ability of the herpes simplex 1 virus.

Video on How to Heal a Cold Sore Overnight

Sources and references

  1. WebMD: Understanding Cold Sores — the Basics
  2. NHS: Cold sore (herpes simplex virus)
  3. Disabled World: How to Heal a Cold Sore Overnight, Quickly

Herpes Site: Herpes Signs and Symptoms ~ Incubation ~ Prodrome

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