Difference Between Cold Sore and Herpes

Herpes and cold sore are two words that always come together. It is important to understand that cold sores are a type of presentation of herpes simplex infection. Therefore, the difference between herpes and cold sores are subtle. The blisters that occur due to Herpes simplex viral infection are called cold sores. These blisters are characteristic of any herpetic cutaneous condition. They are a part of the pathological process. They may arise in the mouth or genitalia. It is very important to understand that cold sore is a sign and herpes is the diagnosis. This article describes the clinical features, symptoms, causes, investigation and diagnosis, prognosis and treatment methods of herpes and cold sore and outlines the differences between both.

Cold Sore

Cold sores are also called fever blisters. They occur outside the mouth and genitalia. HSV 1 cause cold sore around the mouth and HSV 2 causes cold sores around the genitalia. (Read more about the Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2) Some individuals carry the virus without having symptoms. HSV is transmitted via direct contact and is very contagious. Sharing eating utensils, sharing shaving equipment, coming into contact with saliva of an infected person are some common routes of transmission. It enters the body through damaged skin and mucus membranes.

Cold sores occur in clusters. The skin around the blisters is warm, reddened and painful. These blisters rupture in a few days and expel a clear, straw colored fluid and then crust over. The cold sores heal in one to two weeks. Fever, enlarged lymph nodes, runny nose, malaise, loss of appetite may accompany the sores. Diagnosis is clinical.

This condition is self-limiting and treated if they are very painful. Antiviral skin creams, ointments can be used, sometimes in concert with oral treatment in severe cases. Cold sores can be prevented by using separate drinking cups, plates, and cutlery, proper hand-washing, and avoiding kissing an infected person. Direct exposure to sunlight may induce a flare up.


Herpes simplex virus 1 causes oro-facial herpes while herpes simplex virus 2 causes ano-genital herpes. Conditions that feature cold sores are caused by both HSV 1 and 2. The natural history of the infection is quite fascinating. After the virus enters the body, it goes into the nerve cell bodies and remains dormant in ganglions. Even though antibodies formed against the virus prevent reinfection, the immune system is unable to eradicate the infection entirely. HSV 1 causes gingivostomatitis and labialis. These two conditions feature cold sores.

Gingivostomatitis is an inflammation of gums and mouth. Difficulty in opening the mouth, gum bleeding, sensitive teeth, and gum pain are the usual symptoms. Cold sores appear in groups, in the mouth in gingivostomatitis. It is the initial presentation in many cases, and it comes on more severely compared to herpes labialis.

Herpes labialis presents as groups of characteristic blisters on the lips. HSV 2 causes genital herpes, which is one of the presentations that may form a diagnostic challenge, features clusters of papules and vesicle surrounded by inflamed skin, on the outer surface of penis or labia.

What is the difference between Herpes and Cold Sore?

• Cold sore is a characteristic feature of HSV infections.

• Herpes is the virus and the diagnosis while cold sore is the sign of infection.


Read more:

1. Difference Between Thrush, Herpes and Yeast Infection

2. Difference Between Syphilis and Herpes 

3. Difference Between Genital Warts and Herpes

4. Difference Between HPV and Herpes

5. Difference Between Pimple and Herpes

6. Difference Between Herpes and Ingrown Hair

7. Difference Between Acne and Herpes

8. Difference Between Cold Sore and Pimple

9. Difference Between Cold Sore and Canker Sore

10. Difference Between Ulcer and Cold Sore