Do Cold Sores Mean You Have an STD?

Medically Reviewed on 9/8/2020
Having a cold sore does not necessarily mean you have an STD
Having a cold sore does not necessarily mean you have an STD

Having a cold sore does not necessarily mean you have an STD. Most of the cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which usually affects the lips and is not generally transmitted by sexual contact. Though less common, cold sores may be caused by another type of herpes simplex virus called HSV-2. This virus usually causes herpes genitalis, which is an STD in the genital area. Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be passed on by saliva, body secretions, or oral sex. 

What does a cold sore feel like?

Symptoms are usually more severe during the first time someone develops a cold sore. When a person gets a cold sore outbreak, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Tingling, itching, and/or burning sensations on or around the lips are usually the first signs of a cold sore. These symptoms generally start about 12-24 hours before the cold sore appears.
  • Slowly blisters appear, which makes the affected part red, swollen, and painful.
  • In the following two to three days the blisters rupture. The ruptured blisters ooze fluid that may be clear or yellowish. This phase of oozing fluid is called the “weeping phase.”
  • In the next four to five days after the cold sore develops, it crusts and scabs over. The skin may crack or bleed as it heals.
  • Ultimately, the scab falls off. The skin underneath may be a little more pink or reddish than usual for a few days. Usually, it may take a week or two for the sore to heal completely.

A cold sore is contagious starting from the period a person feels the initial symptoms (such as tingling, burning, and itching) to the time the cold sore has healed completely (when the scab falls and skin has completely healed).

How can I prevent having a cold sore?

If you have not been infected with Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), you can protect yourself from having the infection by taking the following precautions around people with cold sores:

  • Avoid any kind of intimate contact, such as kissing and oral sex, with someone who has a cold sore.
  • Do not share personal articles, such as toothbrushes, cosmetics, towels, razors, dishes, cutlery, and straws.
  • Wash your hands before touching your face or genitals.

If you have already been infected or have come in contact with HSV-1, you may reduce your risk of having a cold sore by:

  • Trying to stay healthy: Fever can be an important trigger for a cold sore. This is the reason cold sores are also called fever blisters.
  • Avoiding mental and emotional stress: Keep yourself calm through different stress-reducing activities, such as reading, listening to music, yoga, and meditation.
  • Maintaining a healthy immune system: Take proper diet and rest because fatigue may weaken your immune system and make you vulnerable to get sick.
  • Protecting yourself from strong sunlight and wind: Avoid going out when it is too sunny or windy. You should protect your lips and from sunburn by wearing a sunscreen and lip balm with SPF.

In case you get a cold sore, avoid kissing a baby, and wash your hands with soap and water before you touch them as it may cause a dangerous condition in babies, called neonatal herpes.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/8/2020