Cold Sore

What are cold sores?

4 min read

Caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), cold sores are small painful blisters[1]. Not only are they often painful, they can also make people feel self-conscious. Yet, cold sores are actually a fairly common condition affecting up to 50-80% of people in the US[2].

Find out more below about what cold sores are and the areas of the body they can affect.

  • Cold sores are caused by the HSV-1 virus, while herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2
  • Cold sores can appear on the mouth, nose and even other places on the face[1]
  • The virus can be transmitted through physical and in-direct contact[1]

In this article:

  • What are cold sores?
  • Cold sore – the scientific definition
  • What’s the difference between cold sore and herpes?
  • Cold sores on nose and face

Cold sore – the scientific definition

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1). Most commonly, cold sores or fever sores, develop into blisters around the mouth.

However, in some cases, people can develop cold sores on the nose and other areas of the face, such as the chin. Most people in the US have come into contact with the virus by the age of 20[3].

The best way to reduce transmission of the virus is to avoid touching the sore and avoiding contact through physical and in-direct contact – such as through kissing, sharing a glass or straw, sharing a toothbrush, or sharing eating utensils[2].

Cold sores are active from when the first symptom appears, usually a tingling, burning sensation in the affected area[4]. Other warning signs of an outbreak include[4]:

  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Tingling
  • Slight numbness
  • Throbbing

These warning signs will usually appear a couple of days before a cold sore develops. Sometimes a sore may never even appear.

Other early symptoms of a new infection include[3]:

  • Painful mouth sores and blisters on the lips
  • Fever
  • Headache
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What’s the difference between cold sore and herpes?

Cold sores are a herpes virus, caused by the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). It is not to be confused with the sexually transmitted infection that results in genital herpes, caused by herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2)[1].

The main difference between the cold sore herpes viruses and genital herpes is that the virus that causes cold sores “live” in the nerve ending behind the cheek bone, causing cold sores to develop on the face, around the mouth, nose, cheeks and chin.  The outbreak is triggered by hormonal, environmental and emotional factors.

Genital herpes is spread through sexual contact and the sores are usually found on the genitals. The virus that causes genital herpes resides adjacent to the spinal cord in the lower back.

It’s important to remember that both are extremely contagious, even before a blister has appeared. You should check out the early cold sore symptoms above and start treatment as soon as the first signs appear – there’s no cure, but it can be managed.

Cold sores on nose and faces

While the most common place to develop a cold sore is on the lips, developing a cold sore on the nose and face can also occur. These cold sores are also caused by HSV-1 [1].

Typically, you can treat these the same way you would treat a cold sore on the lip. If on or near your eyes, contact your healthcare professional.

Read about the causes of cold sores to find out what could be triggering an outbreak in a particular area, taking care of your skin could reduce the chance of an active cold sore developing.


Cold sores are caused by the HSV-1 virus and appear as a result of various triggers. Cold sores can appear as small blisters on lips, nose, and other areas of the face.  There are a number of treatments that can be used to reduce the length and pain associated with a cold sore.


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