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A nasal cold sore typically causes a burning sensation and blisters that eventually ooze pus. Treatments like ointments and home remedies may help reduce symptoms.

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Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. This contagious virus can spread through close physical contact, such as kissing.

There’s no cure for herpes, which means that cold sores may return even if they go away. However, certain medications can help soothe the pain and prevent future outbreaks.

As with cold sores on the mouth, nasal cold sores develop in five stages:

  1. Tingling: You’ll start feeling a tingling or burning sensation in and around your nose or lips.
  2. Blistering: Fluid-filled blisters appear in or on the nose. They usually appear in clusters.
  3. Weeping: The blisters burst and ooze. The resulting sores are often painful.
  4. Crusting: The sores dry out. Itchy scabs form.
  5. Healing: The scab falls off, and the skin heals.

During a cold sore outbreak, you might also experience flu-like symptoms, including:

Typically, cold sores heal on their own within 1–2 weeks.

However, if you develop any eye symptoms (or sores on your eye) during a cold sore outbreak, seek medical attention as soon as possible. When herpes affects your eyes, it must be treated quickly to prevent permanent vision loss.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus.

There are two types of the herpes simplex virus. The herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1) usually causes cold sores, and the herpes simplex type 2 virus (HSV-2) usually causes genital herpes.

However, it is possible for HSV-1 to affect the genitals and for HSV-2 to affect the face and mouth.

Cold sores are contagious even when they’re not visible. The virus can be spread through close physical contact, such as:

  • kissing
  • sharing utensils
  • sharing cosmetics
  • having oral sex

HSV cannot be cured. Even if you don’t have symptoms, the virus remains in your body. This means outbreaks can reoccur.

Outbreaks can happen randomly, but they also might be triggered when your immune system is compromised, such as when you’re feeling ill or stressed.

It’s not clear why cold sores affect the nose specifically. The virus can spread from the mouth to the sensitive tissues in the nose.

Anybody who has HSV can develop nasal cold sores. Herpes is quite common — according to 2016 data from the World Health Organization, 67% of the world’s population under the age of 50 have HSV-1.

However, not everybody experiences symptoms. It’s possible to have HSV-1 without getting cold sores. Some people might have cold sore outbreaks more frequently than others.

Once you contract the virus, the following factors may trigger its symptoms:

A healthcare professional can diagnose nasal cold sores by identifying them visually.

It’s also possible to test fluid from the sore for HSV, although a visual examination is usually enough.

Although herpes cannot be cured, you can treat nasal cold sores to reduce discomfort.

Prescription treatment for nasal cold sores

A healthcare practitioner can prescribe an antiviral medication, such as:

These medications can help reduce the risk of transmission. They can also suppress the virus, reducing the chance of future outbreaks.

Over-the-counter treatment for nasal cold sores

A topical treatment called docosanol (Abreva) is available over the counter at most pharmacies. It works by reducing the spread of the virus into healthy cells.

It’s best to start this treatment in the early stages of cold sore development — when you start to feel tingling in and around your nose or mouth.

Using a cotton bud or cotton pad to apply the medication to the affected areas can help reduce the risk of transmission to other areas.

You can also use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).

Home treatment for nasal cold sores

In addition to OTC or prescription medication for nasal cold sores, some home remedies might help soothe the symptoms.

You could try:

  • using a cold or warm compress held over your nose
  • applying zinc oxide ointment when your sores are crusting or healing
  • applying sunscreen to cold sores that may be exposed to sunlight

Additionally, some research has suggested that:

If you touch your cold sores when applying sunscreen or ointment, wash your hands before touching another part of your face. It’s best to apply treatments with a cotton bud or pad so that you don’t transmit the virus to other areas.

What are the stages of nasal cold sore outbreaks?

Cold sore outbreaks happen in five stages:

  1. tingling
  2. blistering
  3. weeping
  4. crusting
  5. healing

Cold sores can reoccur.

How long do cold sores in the nose last?

Cold sores typically last 1–2 weeks from when they first appear to when they heal.

Are nasal cold sores contagious?

Yes. All cold sores are contagious. It’s best to avoid mouth-to-mouth contact if you have cold sores, even if they’re in your nose and not your mouth.

Are nasal cold sores curable, or can they reoccur?

Nasal cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which is incurable. This means that cold sores can reoccur.

What can you do to prevent nasal cold sores from developing?

Ask a healthcare professional about antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex).

These medications won’t cure the virus, but they can suppress it. This may reduce your chances of future outbreaks and help prevent transmission to others.

Although cold sores usually appear around the mouth, they might also appear in or around your nose.

While this can be painful, OTC and prescription medications can help relieve discomfort. Certain home remedies might also provide relief.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.