Talking to Your Doctor About Cold Sores (Herpes Simplex Type 1)

You have a unique medical history. Therefore, it is essential to talk with your doctor about your personal risk factors and/or experience with cold sores. By talking openly and regularly with your doctor, you can take an active role in your care.

General Tips for Gathering Information

Here are some tips that will make it easier for you to talk to your doctor:

  • Bring someone else with you. It helps to have another person hear what is said and think of questions to ask.
  • Write out your questions ahead of time, so you don't forget them.
  • Write down the answers you get, and make sure you understand what you are hearing. Ask for clarification, if necessary.
  • Don't be afraid to ask your questions or ask where you can find more information about what you are discussing. You have a right to know.

Specific Questions to Ask Your Doctor

About Cold Sores

  • What causes cold sores?
  • What are the symptoms of cold sores?
  • How long do they last?
  • How are cold sores diagnosed?
  • Are there any serious complications of herpes simplex that I should be aware of?

About Your Risk for Developing Cold Sores

  • Am I at risk for cold sores?
  • How do I know if someone in my family had or has cold sores? What physical signs or symptoms should I be looking for?
  • When are people with cold sores most contagious? Who is most vulnerable to catching herpes simplex from me?
  • How do I best prevent cold sores?

About Treatment Options

  • What is the best treatment option for cold sores?
  • Can they be cured?
  • What medications are available to help me?
    • What are the benefits/side effects of these medications?
    • Will these medications interact with other medications, over-the-counter products, or dietary or herbal supplements I am already taking for other conditions?
  • Are there any alternative or complementary therapies that will help me?

About Lifestyle Changes

  • Can I make any changes in my activities that will help prevent cold sore outbreaks?
  • Are there dietary changes I should make?
  • Can I exercise?
  • How often should I exercise?
  • What can I do to help reduce stress in my life?
  • Can I spread herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) from my mouth to parts of my partner’s body during sex?

About Your Outlook

  • How often will I have an outbreak?
  • Are there other treatments for me if I have frequent recurrences?


Herpes simplex. DermNet NZ website. Available at:
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Accessed January 29, 2021.
Kuehl B. Cold sores: how to prevent and treat them. Skin Care Guide website. Available at:
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Accessed January 29, 2021.
Oral herpes. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Accessed January 29, 2021.
Tips for talking to your doctor. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
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Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/29/2021

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