If You Have Cold Sores, Does That Mean You Have Herpes?

Hi Heather,

So I sometimes get cold sores on or around my mouth. They go away pretty quickly, luckily for me. But I have heard that cold sores are a form of herpes and that kind of freaks me out. I’ve been getting them ever since I could remember. Should I be worried? Does getting cold sores mean you have herpes?

You’re right, cold sores are a form of herpes – but not necessarily a form of the sexually transmitted disease herpes. It’s a little confusing, but basically it means that having a cold sore doesn’t automatically mean you have an STD.

Here’s the deal: there are a few different forms of herpes. One of these is called HSV-1, which is most commonly associated with cold sores. Another is called HSV-2, which is the main cause of genital herpes (the sexually transmitted disease). HSV-1 is extremely common. The American Social Health Association says that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of people in the US are affect by it. And it’s not weird that you’ve been getting cold sores since before you can remember – they also say that most people get HSV-1 when they’re children.

Also, are you sure you’re getting cold sores and not canker sores? These are often confused but are actually different. Cold sores are filled with fluid and scab over once they “pop.” They usually happen outside and around the mouth instead of inside the mouth (although they can happen there too). Canker sores only happen inside your mouth – they look different and usually don’t scab over.

Even if you do have cold sores, there’s no reason for you to be ashamed of them – in fact, doctors say that 90 percent of people will get one at least once in their life. 90 percent! That’s huge. The HSV-1 virus is so common that it’s silly for it to have a stigma attached to it.

To treat a cold sore, you can use a cream that you can buy over-the-counter at the drug store. If you’re really getting them that frequently, you should consider going to the doctor for a prescription. Also, try not to spread them. The most common way to do that is kissing someone when you have an open sore. A small percentage of people can give genital herpes when giving oral sex when they have a cold sore. Just be careful and wait it out. And if you’re really worried, talk to a doctor.

take care,

What’s on your mind? Heather can help! Send her your question at heather@gurl.com


It hurts when I pee – does this mean I have an STD?

Follow Gurl, pretty please!
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram

Posted in: Your Body
Tags: , ,
  • mavis

    This answer is full of misguided information. First, herpes is herpes. HSV-1 and HSV-2 are both transmittable through sexual contact, so trying to distinguish between one as an “STD” and the other as “totally common and no stigma!” is misleading at best. It makes more sense to distinguish between “oral” and “genital,” as HSV-1 can be transmitted to either location (above or below the belt). With more and more cases of genital herpes being caused by HSV-1, yes, you absolutely should warn your partners that you have oral herpes. And yes, you can transmit the virus even without an active outbreak — asymptomatic carriers also “shed” the virus occasionally, so it’s not a foolproof solution to simply avoid contact only when you have cold sores.

    The way to bust through the stigma isn’t to try to make yourself feel better that you have the “ok, non-STD” form — it’s to admit herpes is herpes, not such a big deal, and therefore no reason not to talk about it with your partners.


  • Robin

    *is it dangerous having a canker sore?

  • Robin

    Is it dangerous to have a canker sore?