Cold Sores and Herpes: Are They the Same

Cold Sores and Herpes: Are They the Same

Cold sores and herpes- you’ve probably heard about them. And, you might know that they share the same symptoms such as painful blisters and sores. But, you might not be completely sure about some questions below:

  • Are they the same thing?
  • Are they contagious?
  • Why do you get them?
  • How can you treat them?

This article will help you answer the questions and explore more about them. Here’s everything you need to know about herpes and cold sores.

Cold sores and herpes: Are they the same?

Cold sore, or oral herpes is also known as fever blister. This is a common skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus has two main types including the virus type 1 (HSV-1) and the virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both of them are highly contagious and can spread through skin contact. Also, they are incurable but can be managed and controlled with medications.   

HSV-1 is responsible for cold sores that often appear on the lip or around the mouth. Whereas, HSV-2 can cause sores on the genitals, called genital herpes. And very often, genital herpes is shortly called herpes. But sometimes, people also call cold sores herpes. In fact, it’s named after the virus “herpes” that causes the condition.

Herpes and cold sore symptoms

So, now we know that cold sores are the same thing as herpes. HSV-2, which causes genital herpes, also results in sores on the mouth. And, you can have both cold sore and genital herpes at the same time. But, the chances of that happening are less common.

HSV-1 can be spread easily through mouth secretions and oral-to-oral contact. Whereas, HSV-2 can be passed to others through sexual intercourse.

Related: The Difference between Genital Herpes and Oral Herpes

They are different from canker sores.

People often confuse cold sores and herpes with canker sores, but they are not the same. Canker sores usually occur inside the mouth or throat and they are not contagious. Cold sores, on the other hand, happen on and around the lips. These sores are often described as small ulcers or painful blisters.

common symptoms of herpes

If you have cold sores, you will go through the following different stages.

  • Stage 1: A tingling or burning sensation on the lip. This stage usually develops about 24 hours before blisters appear.
  • Stage 2: Turn into fluid-filled blisters.
  • Stage 3: The blisters start to burst, ooze and crust over.
  • Stage 4: The sores dry out and form scabs.
  • Stage 5: The sores start to heal.

Cold sores are harmless but highly contagious. They may return often and become severe in people who have a weak immune system. So, if you have a cold sore on any part of your body, get it treated immediately.

Related: The Differences between Cold Sore and Canker Sore

A lot of people have HSV-1. But, not all infected ones will get cold sores.

It’s estimated that 3.7 billion people worldwide are infected with HSV. And more than 80% among these don’t know that they have the disease. It’s because HSV does not always show its symptoms. According to the WHO, the virus can become dormant in the body, so it causes no symptoms. When you’re sick or your immune system is suppressed, it then becomes active and causes infection. Stress, surgery and sun exposure can also trigger a cold sore.

As mentioned, cold sores are highly contagious. Even when you don’t have a symptom, you can still spread the virus to others.

Cold sore symptoms

HSV-1 can lead to genital herpes during oral sex.

HSV-2 could be to blame for genital herpes. However, HSV-1 that often causes cold sores can also be a reason. In fact, if you have a cold sore and you perform oral sex on your partners, they can also become infected.

HSV-2 is less common than HSV-1. But, having HSV-2 from HSV-1 transmission is extremely common. In fact, 140 million young adults worldwide now are in this situation.

Related: Top 8 Facts about Oral Sex You Must Know

Having oral sex causes genital herpes

Get tested is the only way to know if you have HSV-1 or HSV-2.

If you suspect that you have HSV, you should check with your doctor. To diagnose the disease correctly, a doctor can take a blood test. Also, they can swab the area and do a culture in case you have an active outbreak.

If you do test positive for herpes, don’t panic. The condition is very common and can be treated with medications.

Tests for herpes

Use antiviral medications or over-the-counter products to treat herpes.

Without treatment, cold sores and herpes can go away on their own. But, this can take a long time, about 2-3 weeks. And in the meantime, herpes symptoms can be very annoying and painful. To help the sores heal faster, prescription antiviral tablets or cream can work. Besides, there are numerous FDA-approved medications for treating herpes and cold sores. If you get recurrent symptoms, your doctor might suggest using Prosurx cream. This is an effective topical anti-viral cream for herpes treatment. Most sufferers apply Prosurx to the sores and get relief after 3-4 days.

Other drugs that can help with herpes may include acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir.

How to treat cold sores and herpes

Take precautions to reduce the risk of transmission.

To avoid spreading HSV-1 and HSV-2, doctors recommend the following steps.

  • Don’t kiss or have oral sex while you’re having a cold sore or herpes.
  • Don’t share some personal items like utensils, razors, washcloths and lip balm.
  • Don’t touch or scratch the sores.
  • After touching a sore, wash your hands immediately.
  • Avoid smoking or drinking alcohol.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Lower your stress.

Related: Herpes and How to Diet With It

Tips for preventing herpes

Now you’ve completely understood that cold sores and herpes are the same thing. You also know the reasons why you get them and how you can treat them. So, let’s keep these above things in your mind to protect you against the disease.  


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