Should You Pop a Cold Sore?

  • Medically reviewed by Emina Ribic (MD) on August 17, 2018. Written by Linda White (MD).

The herpes simplex virus always occurs at the worst times. It’s no wonder that you want to pop a cold sore like you would a pimple. What starts out as a small red dot quickly turns into a cluster of fluid-filled blisters that hurt. And let’s not forget the ugly yellow scab stage that inevitably follows. Fever blisters can happen during any season, and people of all ages and both sexes are affected.

Popping a cold sore blister seems like a “quick fix” that will decrease the healing time. It’s the perfect solution if you have a date, want to go shopping at the mall or work in a public-facing role. We all want to avoid those awkward staring glances. You feel confident when you’re cold sore free.

Should I burst a cold sore? No, squeezing a cold sore ‘could’ make the situation worse. You have herpes simplex one (HSV-1), so you risk spreading oral herpes to other body parts (and people). In some case, cold sores can spread to near the eyes or fingers (herpetic whitlow). Your next outbreak could be far more severe, so you need to be careful.

Rather than popping a cold sore with a needle or squeezing it until it bursts, treat them during the prodromal (tingling) stage with the Virulite Electronic Device. You should do this as soon as you experience the tingling.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the reasons why you should never pop a cold sore with a needle. We understand that many of you will decide to remove your cold sores early, so we’ll provide a safer step-by-step guide later in the article. We’ll also advice what can do to reduce the pain and recover much faster.

So, should you pop a cold sore?

Let’s find out.

Popping a cold sore is NOT a safe practice. However, the final decision is yours. Whenever you interrupt the natural lifecycle of a cold sore, you’re potentially inviting problems. Unless you have a safe plan of action, popping your fever blisters is inadvisable.

Because the blister is front and center, it can become tempting to hurry things along on your own. This temptation can introduce a host of complications. You are, in fact, prematurely removing a painful sore that’s been produced by a highly contagious virus.

To summarize…

  • Popping a cold sore is an unsafe practice. Although the final choice is in your hands, it is our recommendation that you allow the natural healing process to continue. Your cold sores will typically go away on their own in 8 to 12 days. If you treat your cold sores, it will be sooner
  • You should never squeeze a cold sore because your blister is the byproduct of a lifelong latent infection.

Are You Supposed to Pop Cold Sore Blisters?

To understand why popping a cold sore is a bad idea, you need to know about each of the five stages of cold sores. You can recover slightly faster if you burst your cold sores, but you can also slow down your recovery (and cause new problems) “if” things go wrong.

Listed below is an overview of the complete cold sore lifecycle and what you can expect from each stage:

Stage 1

The initial stage of a cold sore outbreak is the prodromal or tingle stage. Your lip will begin to tingle or burn. The skin that’s affected could become tight and itchy. Redness and swelling are also possible symptoms. This stage typically lasts for between 24 and 48 hours.

Stage 2

The second stage involves blistering. As the name would suggest, this is where the visual appearance of a blister would occur. Cold sores often appear in clusters and grow/multiply during this stage.

The blisters themselves fill with fluid, and the pressure of this process can be felt on the lip and surrounding areas of the mouth. Areas outside of the blister location may become swollen and red. This stage typically lasts 2 to 4 days.

Stage 3

Roughly four days following the tingle stage you will enter the third part of the cycle known as the ulcer stage. This can be the most painful and problematic stage of your outbreak.

It is during this time that your blisters will burst and a shallow ulcer will form. The visual of an open sore will be evident. The appearance of a red circle or ring around the sore is a common symptom.

Stage 4

Once your cold sore (ulcer) dries out, it will be covered by a yellowish-brown crust. This is the scab stage. While this stage marks a dramatic turning point in your cycle regarding healing, this stage can also be a bit tricky.

The scab stage can be painful as the scab itself starts to flake away in tiny pieces. This can result in small cracks that can lead to bleeding. Extreme burning and itching can also become an issue. The scab stage typically last 2-3 days. This occurs roughly 5-8 days after the initial tingle stage.

Stage 5

Occurring an estimated one week (8-10 days) following your original symptoms, the healing stage begins. Hallmarked by the complete (and natural) flaking away of the scab, the area of concern is replaced by a pinkish-red skin.

While it is common for some small swelling to remain, your outbreak is medically over. HSV-1 has returned to its dormancy, and you are no longer contagious.

Given how the lifecycle works, you can see the issues that squeezing and pinching could cause. Popping a cold sore will interrupt the ulcer stage, scab stage, and healing stage. Remember that healing should always be your objective rather than the removal of your sore.

What Comes Out of a Burst Cold Sore?

Cold sore blister is filled with clear fluid that contains herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), making it highly contagious when popped. If additional bacterial infection occurs, blisters can contain pus. This usually happens when you touch the blister often, and bacteria from your hands get in contact with the sore.

To recap…

  • Cold sores are fluid-filled skin lesions. They are the byproduct of your immune system fighting the area of infection. The liquid is usually clear, but it can also be white if it contains pus.
  • Pus is natural and is nothing to be alarmed about. Although the visual is not pleasant, a natural bursting sore (with pus) is a sign of healing.
  • Clean away the liquid after your blister bursts. It is contagious (contains active HSV-1).

What If My Cold Sore Popped on Its Own?

If your cold sore has popped naturally, then you’re in good shape. You can trust that a fever blister will only burst open on its own when it’s ready. If this has taken place, it is your job to make sure the area is clear of any germs and bacteria that could lead to infection.

If you have been treating your cold sore since the tingle stage, this should continue until the healing process has been completed. Remember that you’re not completely healed until the scab has flaked away.

Will popping my cold sore spread the virus?

5 Reasons Why You Should Not Pop a Cold Sore

To better understand why squeezing your blisters can be detrimental it is valuable to learn more about the possible consequences of your actions.

The reasons for not bursting cold sores are as follows:

1. Pain

It can cause extreme pain. The discomfort will be much worse than if your blister popped in a natural (stage) way.

Because popping a cold sore requires some force, the acts of pushing, squeezing, and poking can be painful. The pain is only made worse if you have to endure several failed attempts. Attempting to burst a cold sore is not a pleasant task regardless of whether it’s successful or unsuccessful.

2. Infection

Because fever blisters are not meant to be squeezed and popped, infection of the sore (and surrounding skin) can occur. The more you push and poke at your cold sore the more damage can occur.

You can harm your lip. If you are using a needle to burst your cold sore, this can introduce bacteria to the site. When you take matters into your own hands, the risk of infection increases dramatically.

3. Viral Spreading

Once a blister is popped, it becomes an open sore. If the area is not quickly brought under control, the virus can be spread.

No longer confined to the blister or the prime location itself, things can get out of control. If you’re “messy” with your squeezing and pinching, you could expose your fingers, mouth, nose, and cheeks to HSV-1.

4. Delayed Healing

It could delay the healing process. When you burst your own sores, you have taken the recovery process out of the hands of your body. This could result in a prolonged ulceration stage and scabbing stage.

You might also have to deal with the damage that was done during the popping process. This will add to the healing sequence. In the long run, your blister will have probably come and gone faster on its own had you just left it alone.

5. Scarring

Extensive damage to the area can result in scarring. It is not uncommon for bleeding to take place when a cold sore is popped. This bleeding is many times caused by the area under the blister being compromised.

As the area heals, any intrusions caused by penetrating the blister can directly impact the fresh skin that forms following the scab stage.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Popping a Cold Sore Without Spreading the Herpes Simplex Virus

If you have decided to follow through with your plan of popping your own sore, it is crucial to take steps to remain safe. We do not recommend this process but acknowledge that many people will do it anyway.

Your primary objective is sterilization and the avoidance of viral spreading. The goal should be to pop the blister as fast as possible without multiple attempts.

Noted below is a step-by-step guide for popping a cold sore without spreading HSV-1:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with anti-bacterial soap.
  2. Adorn a fresh and unused pair of latex gloves.
  3. Have one sterilized gauze pad ready, ideally near the area where you intend to pop your blister. Your bathroom counter (sink) is ideal.
  4. Get a single needle. A sterile sewing needle will be satisfactory for the task.
  5. Pour rubbing alcohol into a small cup or bowl and submerge the needle. Pour just enough to allow the needle to soak.
  6. Gently clean your sore with warm water. Remove any potential debris. Gently tap your sore dry. Do not be overly aggressive.
  7. Take your sterilized needle and gently (but firmly) stick it directly into the center of your sore. This will be extremely painful, so prepare yourself. Brace for the pain while being deliberate in your actions. Once you commit to the action, do not hesitate.
  8. Take your fresh gauze and apply it to the sore to soak up any pus, blood, and drainage that will occur. Do not press harshly against your blister. Allow it to drain naturally while keeping the drainage contained to the sore itself.
  9. If any drainage makes its way to your gloves remove them ASAP.
  10. Apply new gloves (if necessary) and apply (by fingers or cotton swab) rubbing alcohol to the now popped blister. This application will burn and sting quite a bit but tough it out for the good of the process. Sterilizing the area is essential.

Once you have completed the 10-step process, it is important to throw away everything that’s been used. Discard all packaging, used gauze, gloves, extra alcohol, and even the needle. Once completed, wash your hands with warm/hot water. The use of anti-bacterial soap is necessary.

I Popped my Cold Sore – What Should I Do Now?

Monitor the area for signs of infection. If your blister begins to scab without issue that is an excellent sign. However, if the sore starts to pucker, change colors, spread, and cause pain, this could be the first sign of trouble. If this happens, you should consult your physician without delay.

Will I heal faster if I pop a cold sore?

Can You Drain Cold Sores without Causing Scabs?

Avoiding the scab stage is not possible once blisters have formed around your mouth (lips). The bursting and draining of the sore itself will cause a scab to form. This is how the body heals itself and generates new skin.

If you don’t like the way a scab looks, you can cover it with a Compeed cold sore patch. Allow the scab to fall off at its own pace.

How Do I Dry Out a Cold Sore Safely?

The safest ways to dry out a cold sore is with over-the-counter remedies or prescription medications (if severe).

The tingle stage, also known as the prodromal stage, could also be called the proactive stage. Because cold sores give a bit of a warning before the formation of a blister, this can give you 24-48 hours to take immediate action.

The decision to pop a cold sore should be avoided. It ‘may’ sometimes speed up the healing process, but it’s more likely to introduce new and more significant skin problems. If it leads to scarring or spreads the virus, you’ll instantly regret turning to this ‘quick fix.’

Instead, treat is with cold sore treatment products during the tingling stage for 72-hour healing!

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Chi CC, Wang SH, Delamere FM, Wojnarowska F, Peters MC, Kanjirath PP. Interventions for prevention of herpes simplex labialis (cold sores on the lips). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015; doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD010095.pub2.

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