Cold sores and shingles are both a form of herpes.[1] Either condition can cause blisters to form on the body. However, beyond those two characteristics, a direct relationship does NOT exist. This is primarily because they come from different viral strains.

Both conditions cause painful blisters and days of discomfort. Shingles, in particular, can be debilitating for seniors.

We will provide detailed information about each virus and how to definitively distinguish the two conditions.

Are Cold Sores and Shingles The Same Virus?

While both conditions stem from herpes, the virus types are entirely different and distinct. Additionally, how you obtain each virus is starkly dissimilar.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus.[2] You acquire cold sores, also known as HSV-1, through kissing or physical contact with infected areas of the skin. Cold sores commonly develop on the lips and/or mouth. Carriers of HSV-1 can transfer the virus during periods where the virus has been “triggered” and is contagious. Once you acquire HSV, the viral strain will reside in your body forever. Here is a cold sore FAQ.

If you have ever endured chicken pox, also known as varicella-zoster, you could get shingles later in life.[3] Why? Remaining dormant in your body for potentially decades following your initial bout, the virus can resurface. Shingles is the name given to the virus upon recurrence.

While it is unclear (for sure) as to what causes varicella-zoster to resurface, experts theorize that weakened immune health through the natural aging process could be a factor. The logic suggests that your body no longer can keep the virus dormant. This could explain why shingles typically impact the elderly.

Shingles can be transferred to those who have never had chickenpox. It can also be spread to those who have never had the chickenpox vaccine. Transfer of the virus occurs by making physical contact with the infected area of the skin.

What are the Symptoms of Shingles? 

Although shingles and cold sores have no direct medical connection, shingles can look like cold sores to a certain degree. This is especially true as it relates to the formation of fluid-filled blisters.

While the notion of getting cold sores truly confused for shingles is rare, shingles can be very troublesome. The same annoyance and discomfort that HSV-1 sufferers endure can occur in those who have shingles. In fact, primarily because shingles affect the elderly, the throbbing pain and burning can be unbearable.

Listed below are the most common symptoms associated with shingles. These symptoms can often vary regarding intensity and discomfort:

  • Rash, reddish in color, begins to form just days after the infected area becomes a source of pain and discomfort.
  • Pain and burning (pre and post rash) at the infection site. Numbness coupled with a tingling sensation is also possible.
  • The infected region is sensitive to the touch.
  • Fluid-filled blisters, similar to the look of cold sores, begin to form. These sores will gradually break open and then scab over.
  • Intense itching.

While the issues listed above are common with shingles, some additional issues can occur.[4] They include a headache, fatigue, and fever. Some individuals who suffer from shingles also complain of sensitivity to light.

Regarding shingles looking like cold sores, this is undoubtedly true at various stages. The red blister comparison is a legitimate one even if the two conditions are vastly different.

Can You Have Cold Sores and Shingles at the Same Time?

Because the two conditions are very distinct viruses, it is conceivable to have both conditions simultaneously.[5] Given that a weakened immune system is a cold sore trigger, fever blisters could appear while your body attempts to fight a bout with shingles.

While the majority of cold sore outbreaks are rather routine in terms of symptoms and healing, immune weakness can make the situation worse. If you are in the midst of a shingles outbreak your cold sores could become more painful than usual. Additionally, the sores could also last longer and be very difficult to treat.

To recap:

  • It is possible to battle both cold sores and shingles at the same time. This is due in large measure because immune weakness can serve as a cold sore trigger. If you carry HSV-1, something as taxing as shingles could easily prompt a cold sore outbreak.
  • From a general information standpoint, it is critical to note that shingles do not cause cold sores in the literal sense. Simply having shingles has nothing to do with HSV-1. Many things can cause cold sores, not just immune system weakness.

Can Cold Sores Lead to Shingles?

Because the viral strains are distinct and unique to their own identity, the presence of cold sores means nothing in terms of shingles. The only reason that the situation can be reversed (shingles leading to cold sores) is an immune system weakness.

No identifiable spin-off virus can potentially occur due to the presence of HSV-1 in your body. If you have a cold sore, you are not in danger of developing skin cancer, for example. This is the same for the cold sores leading to shingles discussion.

To summarize:

  • The appearance of cold sores will not lead to a bout with shingles. In fact, cold sores are not the step ladder to any particular ailment. HSV-1 will never transform into a different condition entirely.
  • As it relates specifically to shingles, the only one that can “lead” to shingles is chicken pox.

Is shingles related to cold sores?

How Do You Treat Shingles?

The concept behind treating shingles lies mostly with controlling the infection and easing the pain.[6] Many people who suffer from shingles site throbbing pain and a burning sensation as their most intense symptom. This is often even more problematic than the need to scratch the infection.

Once you are diagnosed with shingles, your physician will likely give you some form of antiviral medication. This will dramatically slow down the actual shingles rash if taken within 72 hours of initial symptoms.

Listed below are several drug options that are often utilized to treat shingles and ease the discomforting effects:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • OTC painkillers
  • Capsaicin cream (moderate to severe cases)
  • Pliocene (moderate to severe cases)
  • Potent antibiotics (in order to prevent/treat bacterial superinfection[7])

As is often the case with most any virus, people seemingly struggle with one or two symptoms. Every case is different in that regard. This is also the reason why early diagnosis and immediate treatment is key.

Although touched on briefly, it should not be understated how important age is when it comes to shingles. Because the majority of sufferers are above the age of 60, treatment becomes even more critical. This is vitally true if other medical issues are already present.

Will Shingles Vaccine Stop Cold Sores?

There is nothing, at least in the most literal sense, that can stop cold sores. If you become infected with HSV-1, you are susceptible to cold sores. Because there is no cure for the actual virus, nothing can truly prevent a fever blister outbreak. Taking Zostavax, which is the name of the shingles vaccine, will not help.

One is born from the herpes simplex virus, and the other is born from varicella-zoster, also known as herpes zoster. The viruses are simply not equal. Therefore, even if HSV-1 did indeed have a cure, Zostavax would not be the answer.

Will the shingle vaccination get rid of cold sores?

To recap:

  • Nothing is guaranteed to stop cold sores, especially not a vaccine designed to prevent shingles. Any “halt” when it comes to HSV-1 following Zostavax being administered would be purely coincidental.

If you do have cold sores, apply a treatment as soon as you feel the initial tingle. The Virulite Cold Sore Device is approved by the FDA and can clear up fever blisters in as little as 72 hours.


When two conditions are not connected by the same viral strain, it is difficult to locate a true connection. Although cold sores and the shingles virus are both birthed from herpes, that is where the relationship ends.

Even though both conditions produce painful blisters, many other medical ailments do too.[8] Blisters alone are not enough to form an actual connection.

The critical takeaway from this material needs to be that both issues can be quite excruciating. Especially shingles if not treated properly. The issue concerning senior adults is quite troubling as it relates to shingles.

Whether your specific ailment is cold sores, shingles, or perhaps something else, it is important to notice visual cues. It is equally important to understand a routine symptoms list. While it is never wise to self-diagnose, arming yourself with some basic information can help you receive proper treatment that much quicker.


  1. Kennedy PGE, Rovnak J, Badani H, Cohrs RJ. A comparison of herpes simplex virus type 1 and varicella-zoster virus latency and reactivation. The Journal of General Virology. 2015;96(Pt 7):1581-1602. doi:10.1099/vir.0.000128.
  2. Pires de Mello C. P., Bloom D. C., Paixão I. C. (2016). Herpes simplex virus type-1: replication, latency, reactivation and its antiviral targets. Antivir Ther. 21, 277–286. 10.3851/IMP3018
  3. Gershon AA, Breuer J, Cohen JI, et al. Varicella zoster virus infection. Nature reviews Disease primers. 2015;1:15016. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2015.16.
  4. Cohen JI. Herpes Zoster. The New England journal of medicine. 2013;369(3):255-263. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1302674.
  5. Kobayashi T, Yagami A, Suzuki K, Yoshikawa T, Matsunaga K. Concurrent Reactivation of Herpes Simplex and Varicella Zoster Viruses Confirmed by the Loop-Mediated Isothermal Amplification Assay. Case Reports in Dermatology. 2014;6(1):5-9. doi:10.1159/000358005.
  6. Bader MS. Herpes zoster: diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive approaches. Postgrad Med (2013) 125:78–91.10.3810/pgm.2013.09.2703
  7. Cohen PR. Zosteriform impetigo: Wolf’s isotopic response in a cutaneous immunocompromised district. Dermatology Practical & Conceptual. 2015;5(3):35-39. doi:10.5826/dpc.0503a09.
  8. Wick MR. Bullous, pseudobullous, & pustular dermatoses. Semin Diagn Pathol. 2017 May;34(3):250-260. doi: 10.1053/j.semdp.2016.12.001.