Herpes, Herpes and Cold Sores

Understanding the Difference Between Herpes and Cold Sore

Herpes and cold sore are two viral infections that can cause similar symptoms. However, there are some critical differences between the two. Herpes is a virus that can cause sores on your skin. Cold sores are one type of sore that can be caused by herpes.

This article will delve deeper into the key differences between the two and the possible treatments.

Herpes and Cold Sores

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the most common and usually causes oral herpes or cold sores. HSV-2 is less common and usually causes genital herpes. However, either type of HSV can cause either type of infection.

Cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1. The virus is spread through contact with saliva, skin-to-skin contact, or infected fluids, such as from a cold sore. Once the virus enters your body, it stays there for life. The virus can become active, causing cold sores, even if you don’t have any symptoms.

Simply put, cold sores are a symptom of herpes. And while there is no cure for either herpes or cold sores, there are treatments that can help relieve the symptoms and shorten the duration of outbreaks.

Cold Sores Symptoms

Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus and usually appear as red, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth. They may also occur on other areas of the face, such as the nose, fingers, or mouth.

The first time you have a cold sore, the symptoms will likely be more severe. However, future cold sore outbreaks will cause milder symptoms. 

Symptoms of a cold sore can include burning or tingling that begins a few days before blisters appear. A cold sore is a raised, red blister full of tender and painful fluid. You may also have a fever, headache, sore throat or pain when you swallow, swollen lymph nodes, body aches or pains, and nausea.

Stages of a Cold Sore

Cold sores typically go through five stages:

  1. The first stage is called the prodrome stage. You might feel a burning, tingling, or itching sensation on your lip.
  2. The second stage is called the vesicle stage. This is when a small, red bump appears on your lip. The bump may turn into a small blister.
  3. The third stage is called the ulcer stage. This is when the blister breaks open and turns into an open sore.
  4. The fourth stage is called the crusting stage. This is when the sore starts to crust over.
  5. The fifth and final stage is called the healing stage. This is when the sore starts to heal, and the crust falls off.

Do Cold Sores Mean You Have an STD?

Herpes virus can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. While it is often transmitted through sexual activity, it is possible to get the virus from sharing items like towels, toothbrushes, or makeup with somebody infected. If you contract the virus, you may start having cold sores.

Getting Rid of Cold Sores

There is no cure for cold sores, but they usually go away independently after a few weeks. Some cold sore treatments can help cut the time you need to deal with the cold sore. Here are several ways that can help get rid of cold sores:

  • Creams and ointments can help control pain and promote healing when applied several times a day.
  • Oral antiviral medications stop the virus from replicating, which can help reduce the severity and duration of cold sore outbreaks. Some of these medications may also help to prevent future cold sore outbreaks.
  • Home remedies like applying ice, using lip balm with lemon extract, aloe vera gel, witch hazel, or petroleum jelly, and taking lysine supplements may provide some relief.


Understanding the difference between herpes and a cold sore is important because they are both contagious and have similar symptoms. However, there are some key differences between the two. Herpes is a virus spread through sexual contact, while cold sores are usually caused by the HSV-1 virus, which is spread through contact with saliva. Herpes can cause more serious health complications, such as meningitis, while cold sores are usually not serious.

Aspen Medical Center provides primary care and urgent care. We are a locally owned outpatient medical facility in Santa Fe and Espanola, NM, offering state-of-the-art primary care and urgent care services. If you want to undergo STD testing in Santa Fe, get in touch with us today.

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