The herpes simplex 1 virus (HSV – 1) is a latent virus that can be activated by a variety of factors, such as stress, depression, colds and flu, viral fevers and anxiety. It is possible for HSV – 1 to remain “dormant” in the body for weeks before it surfaces and triggers a cold sore outbreak. When it does surface, the course of the cold sore outbreak usually unfolds over eight distinct stages, over a period of three to four weeks.
1) The Latent Stage
In this stage, HSV – 1 is inactive. It is “hiding” in the nerve cells, or nerve ganglia. HSV – 1 is kept in this state by the body’s immune system. However, should the body undergo any strain due to stress, anxiety, or a cold, the immune system is negatively effected – it’s defenses are lowered – and is no longer effective in the maintenance of this latent stage.
2) The Prodrome Stage
This stage marks the beginning of the reproductive cycle, or “surfacing” of the cold sore virus. This stage is characterized by tingling and itching sensations in the target area of the virus, namely the flesh surrounding the mouth. It is also possible to experience some burning or dryness in the targeted area. This is a critical stage in the development of a cold sore, as it is the optimal period for treatment to start.
3) The Inflammatory Stage
Here, HSV – 1 has reached its target area. The flesh around this area becomes red and swollen as the virus starts to reproduce.
4) The Pre-Sore Stage
At this stage, clusters of small blisters, or vesicles, appear. They resemble small, hard pimples, that are very sensitive and painful to the touch.
5) The Open Sore Stage
This is the most contagious phase of the cold sore’s development, as it reaches the peak of its reproductive cycle. Here, the small vesicles of the sore burst open, releasing a clear fluid. This fluid dangerously merges with other viruses, resulting in the proliferation of HSV – 1. It is important to avoid touching this fluid, as contact with it, and subsequently, other objects, will spread the virus further. For example, HSV – 1 one can spread directly through the sharing of food and physical contact. It can also be spread indirectly though the sharing of faucets, hand towels and even mobile phones.
6) The Crusting Stage
The open cold sore should begin the healing process at this stage. A yellowish crust forms over the exposed vesicles, allowing the skin underneath to heal, protected from the outside elements. This stage can be particularly painful, as the cracking and tugging of this crust is unavoidable when talking, smiling and eating.
7) The Healing Stage
At this stage, the cold sore is still undergoing the process of healing from the inside, out. The cold sore virus should be retreating back into the nerve ganglia at this point. The crust covering the sore starts to crack, flake, and then scab over.
8) The Post-Scab Stage
By now, the scab has fallen away, revealing a reddish healing-zone. It is important to remember that, despite the disappearance of the vesicles and the crust, the cold sore is still contagious, and may continue to be so for the following two to fourteen days (as the healing process depends highly on the individual). This has proven to be the most frustrating period for the sufferer of a cold sore.
Despite the fact that scientists have yet to discover a definitive cure for cold sores, there are many forms of over-the-counter treatments and home remedies to get rid of cold sores and ensure that these eight cold sore stages conclude quickly, with minimal pain.
Suggested Reading: How to Get Rid of Cold Sores