Difference Between Cold Sores and Herpes

What Are Cold sores

What Are Cold sores?

Cold sores are small, painful, fluid-filled blisters or sores that appear on the lips, mouth, or nose that are caused by a virus. The sores can be painful and usually last a few days. Unlike most viral infections, the cold sore virus is not completely eliminated by the body defenses. For this reason, cold sores often recur.

Causes of Cold sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both virus types can cause sores around the mouth (herpes labialis) and on the genitals (genital herpes).

The herpes simplex virus usually enters the body through a break in the skin around or inside the mouth. It is usually spread when a person touches a cold sore or touches infected fluid-such as from sharing eating utensils or razors, kissing an infected person, or touching that person’s saliva. A parent who has a cold sore often spreads the infection to his or her child in this way. Cold sores can also be spread to other areas of the body.

Symptoms of Cold sores

A cold sore usually passes through several stages:

  • Tingling and itching. Many people feel an itching, burning or tingling sensation around their lips for a day or so before a small, hard, painful spot appears and blisters erupt.
  • Blisters. Small fluid-filled blisters typically break out along the border where the outside edge of the lips meets the skin of the face. Cold sores can also occur around the nose or on the cheeks.
  • Oozing and crusting. The small blisters may merge and then burst, leaving shallow open sores that will ooze fluid and then crust over.

Signs and symptoms vary, depending on whether this is your first outbreak or a recurrence. They can last several days, and the blisters can take two to four weeks to heal completely. Recurrences typically appear at the same spot each time and tend to be less severe than the first outbreak.

During first-time outbreaks, some people also experience:

  • Fever
  • Painful eroded gums
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Children under 5 years old may have cold sores inside their mouths and the lesions are commonly mistaken for canker sores. Canker sores involve only the mucous membrane and aren’t caused by the herpes simplex virus.

What is Herpes?

Herpes is a chronic (long-term) condition. However, many people never have symptoms even though they are carrying the virus.

Many people with HSV have recurring genital herpes. When a person is first infected, the recurrences, if they do occur, tend to happen more frequently.

Over time, the remission periods get longer and longer. Each occurrence tends to become less severe with time.

There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 (Herpes Type 1) and HSV-2 (Herpes Type 2).

Cases of genital herpes are typically caused by HSV-2, which is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. HSV-1, which most commonly causes oral herpes, can cause genital herpes through oral-genital contact.1

Causes of Herpes

Two types of herpes simplex virus infections can cause genital herpes:

  • HSV-1. This is the type that usually causes cold sores or fever blisters around your mouth, though it can be spread to your genital area during oral sex. Recurrences are much less frequent than they are with HSV-2 infection.
  • HSV-2. This is the type that commonly causes genital herpes. The virus spreads through sexual contact and skin-to-skin contact. HSV-2 is very common and highly contagious, whether or not you have an open sore.

Because the virus dies quickly outside of the body, it’s nearly impossible to get the infection through contact with toilets, towels or other objects used by an infected person.

Symptoms of Herpes

Some people get mouth ulcers when they first come into contact with HSV-1 virus. Others have no symptoms. Symptoms most often occur in kids between 1 and 5 years old.

Symptoms may be mild or severe. They most often appear within 1 to 3 weeks after you come into contact with the virus. They may last up to 3 weeks.

Warning symptoms include:

  • Itching of the lips or skin around the mouth
  • Burning near the lips or mouth area
  • Tingling near the lips or mouth area

Before blisters appear, you may have:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Painful swallowing

Blisters or a rash may form on your:

  • Gums
  • Lips
  • Mouth
  • Throat

Many blisters are called an outbreak. You may have:

  • Red blisters that break open and leak
  • Small blisters filled with clear yellowish fluid
  • Several smaller blisters that may grow together into a large blister
  • Yellow and crusty blister as it heals, which eventually turns into pink skin

Symptoms may be triggered by:

  • Menstruation or hormone changes
  • Being out in the sun
  • Fever
  • Stress

If the symptoms return later, they are usually more mild in most cases.

Difference Between Cold Sores and Herpes

Cold Sores (Oral Herpes)

Herpes (Genital Herpes)

  • Appear above the waist
  • Contracted mainly through kissing and oral sex
  • Caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1
  • Appear below the waist
  • Contracted mainly through sexual intercourse and direct skin-to-skin contact
  • Caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus 2

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