In this article, I’m going to teach you about the 5 cold sore stages. After learning this information, you’ll know exactly what to expect from the beginning of a cold sore to the final stages of a cold sore.
Years ago, I used to suffer from cold sore outbreaks many times a year.
And these weren’t just little tiny cold sores…
Oh no – They were BIG and DISGUSTING, highly-noticeable-from-a-distance cold sores.
As a result, I suffered from:
- Social anxiety
- Feelings of unworthiness, guilt, and shame
- Fear of becoming intimate with a woman
- Substance abuse
- Dark depression
Cold Sore Stages Made Life Hard
The cycle of constant cold sore stages negatively impacted my life from the time I was 16, all the way to the age of 34. If I had to guess, I would say I endured anywhere from 50-70 cold sore outbreaks during that period of time.
During my teenage years to my mid-20’s, it was common for me to get a cold sore every few months, and some years I had six or more cold sore outbreaks.
It was horrible.
Since the cold sore stages took on average two weeks to completely vanish after the beginning stage of a cold sore, that means for about a decade, at least two months out of every year I experienced low self-esteem and fear of going out in public.
Friends, family members, and coworkers would sometimes mention that I had a herpes sore on my lip, as if I didn’t notice!
Cold Sore Stages & HSV
Herpes…yes, I said it. The “herps.” Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are groups of small blisters that form on or near the lips.
Cold sores are a result of something called herpes simplex virus (HSV).
There are two types of HSV, and both can cause cold sores. HSV-1 typically is responsible for cold sores, and HSV-2 is most often the cause of genital herpes.
However, both types of HSV can cause cold sores or genital herpes.
After primary infection, the virus resides in the associated dorsal root ganglion where it lies dormant until an external stimuli (such as stress or immunosuppression) initiate reactivation of the virus from dormancy.
The virus lives on forever, and that’s why people continue to go through the cold sore stages over and over again.
Cold Sore Stages – How Long Do Cold Sores Last?
There are 5 stages of a cold sore. How long do cold sores last? Without treatment, cold sores last around 6-12 days. The beginning of a cold sore, or the first sign of cold sore, starts with a tingle, burn, itch, soreness, or swelling.
As the cold sore stages progress, multiple fluid-filled blisters form (and look very unsightly).
The next part of the cold sore stage is when the blisters rupture, then start oozing clear fluid which is highly-contagious. As the cold sore stages continue, and all the blisters have ruptured, the sore becomes an ulceration (which is disgusting.)
Finally, the cold sore stages move on to the final stages as a scab forms over the sore. Once the scab naturally comes off, the cold sore stages are complete.
Now that you have a basic overview on the cold sore stages, lets take a closer look at the timeline and symptoms of the 5 cold sore stages, from beginning to end.
Cold Sore Stage #1 – Tingle Stage
The 5 stages of a cold sore start with Stage 1, which is either referred to as the Tingle Stage or the Prodrome Stage.
Many people at this beginning stage of a cold sore can feel the outbreak coming on.
Here are common symptoms from the first signs of a cold sore emerging:
- Small bump elevating
This first stage – the beginning of a cold sore – typically lasts one or two days. This is also the best and most effective time to start treating your cold sore with either natural remedies, OTC medicine, or prescription medicine.
Cold Sore Stage #2 – Blister Stage
Typically, the Tingle Stage of a cold sore for me used to only last 24 hours. As the cold sore stages progress, we come to Stage 2, called the Blister Stage (aka the Bubble Stage).
This second stage of a cold sore typically goes from days 2-3. At this point, little fluid-filled blisters form in a cluster.
Sometimes the fluid inside the blisters is clear, and sometimes the color can be a yellowish tone.
Here are common symptoms from cold sore blisters:
- Pain and swelling
- Aggravation from eating
Some people typically get small cold sore blisters, while others may typically get large ones.
In the past, it seemed to me that whenever my immune system was lowest, I would get the biggest blisters, as the virus would multiply and have a field-day on my lip.
Once I reached my 30’s, I took better care of myself and had less stress.
As a result, I had less cold sore outbreaks, and when I did get cold sores, the blisters were very small, as my immune system was more efficient at fighting off the virus.
Cold Sore Stage #3 – Weeping Stage
As we progress even further into the cold sore stages, we arrive at Stage 3, the Weeping Stage. This is also known as the Bleeding Stage, or the Ulcer Stage.
Typically, this cold sore stage comes on day 4 and lasts around 24 hours.
Here is the breakdown of what happens:
- The blisters rupture
- The contagious fluid inside the blisters seeps out
- The sore changes from a blister to an ulceration
At the ulceration stage, this is the most-contagious of all cold sore stages. The discharged fluid is loaded with herpes virions. Virions are the virus particles of the herpes simpex virus (pictured below).
Cold Sore Stage #4 – Crusting Stage
The Crusting Stage, also known as the Scabbing Stage, is one of the final stages of a cold sore timeline. As the body continues to heal the cold sore, crust will begin forming.
This crust can be yellowish, dark red, or brown.
I always hated this stage of a cold sore the most.
The scab would often break open while I was eating – my sore would bleed – and it would prolong the healing process. When I went surfing, the scab would come completely off, and would have to form all over again.
The scab can also itch, and if you’re a “picker” like me, it can be hard to resist picking the scab before it’s ready to come off. This stage typically lasts from days 5-8.
Cold Sore Stage #5 – Healing Stage
We’ve now reached the final stage of cold sore healing, called the Healing Stage, which typically lasts from days 9-12.
This is where the scabs from the previous stage of a cold sore begin to fall off naturally, due to the healing underneath becoming complete.
It’s common to have a pinkish or red, temporary scar where you had the cold sore.
This often disappears within a couple of weeks or less, leaving your lips or other area that was affected by the cold sore looking normal again.
Cold Sore Stages – How Long Do Cold Sores Last?
Typically, without treatment, cold sores last 7-12 days. This is not a rule. They can heal faster or slower. With the right treatment methods, the duration of the cold sore stages timeline can be significantly reduced.
The most important method for shortening the duration of a cold sore is to use a remedy or combination of remedies at the first sign of a cold sore.
When you feel the first tingle/itch/burn/swelling on your skin, use a powerful treatment method right away. If you do this, there is even a chance that you could prevent a cold sore from appearing, thus stopping the progression of cold sore stages.
The key to cold sores is to prevent them from forming in the first place.
Thus, I encourage you to check out my Ultimate Guide to Preventing Cold Sores.
It’s free and has absolutely everything you need to know.
If you have any comments or questions on cold sore stages, please post them in the comment box below.