Cold Sore Stages
Cold Sore Stages and Life Cycle
Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are the result of an infection by the herpes simplex virus type 1. Cold sores are contagious, and medical science has not found a full cure for the infection. While the infection that causes cold sores cannot be cured, cold sore lesions are not permanent. Cold sores have a definite life cycle that consists of five distinct stages, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The five stages in the life cycle of cold sores are as follows: the tingling stage, blister stage, weeping stage, scabbing stage and healing stage. Each stage is characterized by unique symptoms, and the complete life cycle of a cold sore lasts a total of 7 to 12 days. The final stage is followed by a period of dormancy before the cycle begins anew. Dormancy may range from only a few days to several months.
1. The Tingling Stage
This stage is also known as the early stage or prodromal stage, and it lasts from 1 to 2 days. The tingling stage is characterized by one or more telltale symptoms that occur before the cold sore becomes visible. As the name of the stage suggests, the most common symptom is a tingling sensation, which is accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the spot where the cold sore is developing. At the end of this stage, the first visible signs appear. The area becomes red and slightly inflamed. The herpes simplex type 1 virus is multiplying rapidly, and it is contagious even at this early stage.
2. The Blister Stage
The blister stage is when the first fluid-filled lumps begin to appear. The blisters appear and grow as the immune system sends white blood cells to fight off the virus. They can appear widely spaced or grouped into clusters, and they are sensitive and painful to the touch. The blister stage lasts for approximately 2 days.
3. The Weeping Stage
This stage is also known as the ulcer stage. At this stage, the cold sore blisters break open and release the fluid that was contained within. This stage only lasts a single day, but it is the most contagious stage in the life cycle because the fluid contains millions of active viruses. The result of this stage is an open ulcer, which may be red or gray and painful. In addition, systemic symptoms may appear at this stage, including headache, fever and a runny nose.
4. The Scabbing Stage
The scabbing stage, also known as the crusting stage, marks the beginning of the healing process. The ulcers begin to dry up and scab over. The most common symptoms at this stage, which lasts from 2 to 3 days, are pain and itching. In many cases, the scab becomes so dry it cracks and causes bleeding.
5. The Healing Stage
The healing stage is the final stage in the life cycle of cold sores. This stage is characterized by a series of scabs, which natural flake off. After the first scab flakes off, another smaller scab forms, and this is repeated until the sore is healed. It may take up to 4 days for the cold sore to become completely healed.