Cold Sores 3 min read

Dispelling Common Myths About Cold Sores

Dispelling Common Myths About Cold Sores Dispelling Common Myths About Cold Sores Dispelling Common Myths About Cold Sores

Oh, cold sores. Despite their annoyance, they’re part and parcel of life. Or, at least for an estimated 67% of the global population. For something so common though, they are plagued with misconceptions – from how they originate and their level of contagiousness, to treatment options and more.

Luckily, the expert team at COMPEED® is here to distinguish fact from fiction – so read on to find out what you need to know.

But first, what even is a cold sore?

A cold sore, also known as a “fever blister” or medically called Herpes Labialis, is a fluid-filled blister that usually starts with an itching, tingling or burning sensation, most commonly on the lips. They are contagious from the moment you feel the burning sensation to the moment they have healed fully – and especially when the blister bursts – and are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

Like a misjudged tattoo of your ex’s name, once you contract the virus, it’s with you for life. While that may seem a little daunting, outbreaks can be controlled and discomfort eased. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Although you carry the virus for life, this doesn’t mean that cold sores are a permanent visible fixture. Rather, the virus remains dormant (inactive) most of the time and can be triggered by a number of factors from stress to hormones to the weather. You also won’t know you have the virus unless you develop a cold sore – and not everybody always experiences symptoms. Most people are exposed to the virus when they’re young through close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a cold sore, often a parent. That said, some of you may be regretting that teenage game of “spin-the-bottle”.

What not to do if you have a cold sore

If you have a cold sore, there are a couple of things you need to avoid doing that involve both what you do to yourself and what you do to others. Most importantly, do not kiss a baby if you have a cold sore as this could put them at risk of developing neonatal herpes, which can be very dangerous for a newborn.

Other things to avoid are kissing anyone, performing oral sex, sharing water bottles, toothbrushes, vapes – basically anything that touches your mouth. You should avoid touching the cold sore, except to apply cream – and remember to wash your hands both before and after to limit contamination. Salty and acidic foods can also aggravate your cold sore, so it’s best to stick to cool, soft foods.

Myth-busting time!

There are quite a few common misconceptions about cold sores. Read on to learn the facts about cold sores so you can tackle them with confidence.

  • Myth: If you don’t have symptoms, you can’t pass the virus on to others. 

The truth is: The herpes simplex virus spreads faster when you are having an outbreak and active sores or blisters are present on the skin. But it can still be spread even if there are no signs or symptoms.

  • Myth: Cold sores cannot spread beyond the lip area.

The truth is: Although the herpes simplex virus typically affects the lips and mouth area, it can also spread to the nose, eyes and genitals. If you have caught an eye infection from having a cold sore, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. If left untreated, your vision could be permanently damaged.

  • Myth: Tea bags heal cold sores.

The truth is: Applying a cool tea bag may help to ease the redness around the cold sore, but it’s not going to fight off the virus.

  • Myth: Cold sores are only contagious when they are blisters.

The truth is: Although cold sores are most contagious when they are blisters, they are still very contagious from the moment you start feeling it forming to the moment it is fully healed.

  • Myth: All non-prescription treatments work in the same way – it doesn’t matter which you buy.

The truth is: Non-prescription treatments ultimately contain different ingredients depending on their purpose. The type of treatment you opt for will depend on your symptoms and personal preference.

  • Myth: Only adults get cold sores.

The truth is: People of all ages can catch HSV-1 and develop cold sores. Most people catch the virus during childhood, and although symptoms typically do not present themselves until they’re older, cold sores are still common infections among children.

  • Myth: Cold sores are the same as genital herpes. 

The truth is: Cold sores are not the same as genital herpes. But it’s really important to note that if you have oral sex when you have a cold sore, you could give your partner genital herpes. This is due to the fact that oral herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1, while genital herpes can be caused by either type 1 or type 2 of the herpes simplex virus (although most cases are caused by type 2, which is a sexually transmitted infection).


Without any treatment, cold sores typically clear up on their own in about 10 days. But there are some ways to make that time pass by a little more comfortably.

Your pharmacist can recommend various creams to ease the pain and irritation, antiviral creams that accelerate the healing process or cold sore patches (like the COMPEED® Cold Sore Discreet Healing patch) that protect the skin and accelerate healing.

COMPEED® Discreet Healing patch starts to work from the first sign of a cold sore and helps your body’s natural healing process. It contains hydrocolloid active gel technology, which creates the optimal germ-free healing environment to help prevent the scab forming and the cold sore from spreading. The patch is very discreet and remains in place for up to 12 hours.

If your cold sore keeps coming back, is very large or painful, your GP might prescribe antiviral tablets. If you’re concerned about the cold sore, your symptoms persist or you think it may be something else, visit your doctor who will be able to advise you.

No two cold sores are the same

Ultimately, the herpes simplex virus affects people of all ages in different ways. But now that you’ve got the low-down on some of the common myths about cold sores, hopefully, you’ll feel equipped to deal with your next outbreak with confidence.