Whether you have experienced cold sores or you have heard about them through friends who have, these small clustered blisters that appear around the lip area are quite common. In fact, according to John Hopkins Medicine, around 50-80% of adults in the United States have the virus that develops cold sores.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and are often referred to as oral herpes. The virus is highly contagious and can be passed on through close skin contact.

See also: What’s the Difference Between HSV-1 and HSV-2?

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What causes cold sores?

Cold sores, sometimes referred to as fever blisters, are a common viral infection. They tend to start with a tingling or itching type of feeling, this feeling is followed by fluid-filled blisters. Although they typically appear around the mouth or nose, they can actually appear any where on the face.

This cluster of blisters is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). According to the HSE, in many people, the virus is passed on in early childhood when they may have been kissed by a family member who had a cold sore at the time [1]. With that said, they can also be spread through direct oral contact.

If you experience cold sores regularly, you may wonder what causes them to appear? There are certain factors that may be the reason for a cold sore appearing, these include:

  • Emotional or psychological stress
  • Fatigue
  • Menstruation

Can you prevent cold sores?

Herpes is so common that almost any sexually active adult can contract it. In saying that, there is no surefire way to prevent contracting the herpes virus (be it herpes simplex virus 1 or herpes simplex virus 2), though there are some ways to reduce the risk of contracting it, these include:

  • Use condoms during vaginal and anal sex
  • Don’t have sex if your partner has a herpes outbreak
  • Use dental dams during oral sex

As the herpes simplex virus can’t be cured, so if you’re looking for a way to stop cold sores appearing, unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent a cold sore outbreak. Though there are ways to prevent spreading it, these include:

  • Avoid touching the cold sore
  • Wash your hands before and after applying any cream to the area
  • Avoid sharing items that may have touched the cold sore
  • Avoid kissing and oral sex

See also: Can Herpes go Away on its Own?

How can I treat a cold sore?

While cold sores can be quite irritating, or sometimes even painful, the good news is that they typically clear up on their own within 3-4 weeks.

However, there are a number of different treatment options that may aid the healing process, these include:

  • Lip balms or creams
  • A cold compress
  • Pain relievers (if the cold sore is causing you pain)

Will I test positive for herpes if I get cold sores?

While HSV-1 isn’t technically considered to be an STD, it can be spread through direct contact - including oral sex.

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 (the type of herpes that typically causes genital herpes), can be diagnosed through a closer look from your doctor and also a reliable lab test.

Although the Herpes Simplex Virus cannot be completely cleared, if you experience cold sores or are sexually active - it’s always good to know more. This can be done by partaking in regular sexual health screening with your local doctor or from home with an at-home lab test.

LetsGetChecked’s at-home Herpes Test can detect herpes simplex antibodies for either HSV-1 or HSV-2. Online results will be available within 5 days and our dedicated medical team will be there to offer a helping hand should you have any questions.

You should consider taking the test if:

  • You become sexually active
  • You have had unprotected sex
  • You are experiencing symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection
  • You are entering into a new sexual relationship
  • You have received a notification from a previous partner that they are infected (STIs can remain dormant for years and/ or take up to three weeks to become detectable.)

See also: How do you Check Herpes From Home?

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Buy an At-Home Sexual Health Test

Test and treat your sexual health from home with our range of at-home STD tests.


  1. HSE. Cold sore. Online: HSE.ie
  2. HSE. Cold sore. Online: HSE.ie