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Can Cold Sores Cause Herpes? Everything You Need To Know

can cold sores cause herpes


Can cold sores cause herpes? Or does herpes cause cold sores?

Is it a combination of both?

To answer these questions, we need to talk about the herpes virus and how it spreads from person to person. 

Many people know that a herpes infection triggers symptoms like cold sores and genital sores. What many don’t realize is that the type of herpes virus responsible for cold sores can spread to the genital area too. 

Here’s what you should know to protect yourself from an unwanted herpes transmission.

What Is a Cold Sore and What Is Herpes?

Herpes, or the herpes simplex virus, is a common virus that occurs as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). 

Many categorize HSV-1 infections as oral herpes and HSV-2 infections as genital herpes. In fact, people once believed that only HSV-2 caused genital herpes. Research now shows, however, that HSV-1 causes up to 42% of genital herpes in females. 

What Is HSV-1?

The herpes simplex virus type 1 spreads through direct contact with the skin. After HSV-1 enters the body, it spreads easily to trigger cold sores around the lips and mouth. It is highly contagious, especially in the presence of oozing blisters. 

HSV-1 remains dormant in nerve cells after your initial outbreak. It may lie inactive for weeks, months or even years. It’s hard to predict exactly when and how another outbreak will occur in the future.

What Is HSV-2?

The herpes simplex virus type 2, most commonly known for causing genital herpes, is a sexually transmitted infection without a known cure. The most common sign of genital herpes is the development of blisters around the genital area. Herpes blisters are often itchy and painful, and they increase the likelihood of transmission.

Yes, You Can Get Genital Herpes From a Cold Sore

Can cold sores cause herpes? Yes, they can.

Specifically, cold sores on the mouth and lips can spread to another person’s genitals through oral contact, even though cold sores are usually caused by HSV-1. This can occur even if sores aren’t present at the time of contact. 

The risk of spreading herpes from a cold sore depends on a number of factors, some of which are within your control:

  • Length of time you’ve been infected with the herpes virus
  • Whether your partner is a man or a woman
  • How frequently you use condoms during any type of sex
  • Whether you take antiviral medication 
  • Whether you use a dental dam
can cold sores cause herpes

How To Keep Cold Sores from Causing Genital Herpes

Couples should refrain from intimate contact anytime cold sores are present, since this increases the likelihood of transmission. The following practices can also help prevent HSV-1 from spreading to your partner and causing genital herpes.

Follow General Hygiene Best Practices

Sometimes the simplest acts are the most powerful. Implement these hygiene best practices to create a safe environment for you and your partner. 

  • Keep the infected area clean and dry
  • Avoid touching sores
  • Wash your hands immediately after any possible contact with sores
  • DON’T pick at sores since this will cause infection
  • DON’T make choices that you know can trigger an outbreak

Take Antiviral Medications

You or your partner can take antiviral medication to fight the herpes virus and help prevent transmission. Your doctor can prescribe one of several available antiviral medications.

Acyclovir (Zovirax) is a prescription medication used to improve the healing of sores or blisters caused by a number of conditions, including first-time and repeat outbreaks of genital herpes. It works by slowing or stopping the spread of the herpes virus within the body.

Valacyclovir (Valtrex) is another antiviral prescription drug used to treat genital herpes and shingles. Taken twice a day for five days, Valtrex may decrease uncomfortable symptoms and help sores heal faster. In some cases, this antiviral can also prevent new sores from forming. 

Use a Dental Dam

A dental dam is a thin, flexible piece of latex that prevents direct oral contact during sex. If you’re wondering how to protect your partner from herpes, a dental dam offers an effective way to stop the spread of HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

Dental dams work like a condom for the mouth, though they’re not nearly as well-known or easy to find as condoms. You may need to order a dental dam online if one isn’t available at your local drugstore. They’re available in a range of shapes, sizes and even flavors. 

How To Prevent Herpes Outbreaks

The herpes virus spreads more easily when sores are present, so learning the best ways to prevent outbreaks can help you reduce the risk of transmission.

In addition to careful hygiene habits, strategic preventative measures can stop cold sores before they start. These tips will help you keep the herpes virus dormant, preventing cold sores from forming on your skin.

Choose the Right Foods and Supplements 

You can’t go wrong by eating healthy and taking supplements. Clinical and anecdotal research show these choices in particular can help prevent cold sore outbreaks

  • Lean protein
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Zinc
  • Lysine
  • Probiotics
  • Vitamin B complex

Consider Getting Tested for Herpes

Though herpes has a reputation for unpleasant and embarrassing symptoms, having either type of herpes without symptoms is surprisingly common. As many as 90% of people infected with herpes may be unaware they have the virus because they’ve never experienced an outbreak. 

Asymptomatic shedding is responsible for the spread of herpes when no symptoms are present. Even in the absence of visible sores, the herpes virus can “shed” via the skin or bodily fluids to infect others.

Symptomatic shedding occurs during an outbreak of herpes sores, blisters or other obvious symptoms. 

The herpes virus is contagious in both situations, but it’s virtually invisible during asymptomatic shedding. This is why it’s so important to monitor your health by getting tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends testing if you’re experiencing symptoms that could be related to herpes or if you recently had sex with a new partner who has herpes. 

There are a few different ways to test for and diagnose herpes:

  • Tissue or herpes sore sample
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to test for the presence of herpes DNA
  • Blood test to detect the presence of HSV antibodies

The Best Ways To Heal Outbreaks Faster

Antiviral medication isn’t the only way to alleviate herpes symptoms and speed up the healing process. Research shows that high-powered light treatment can reduce pain and help manage herpes outbreaks effectively.

When used immediately at the first signs of an emerging outbreak, light therapy can stop your cold sore or HSV-2 outbreak from ever forming. Clinical data conclusively shows that high-powered light treatment reduces healing time from 8.2 days to 1.8 days and extends the time before the next recurrence from 124 days to 455 days! 

The Luminance RED medical devices are designed to help you manage sores caused by both types of the herpes virus. They produce wavelengths of medically-optimized light to shine directly onto sores. Regular use of light therapy not only shortens the healing time of active herpes outbreaks but it can also prevent future also prevent future outbreaks altogether! 

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