It’s important to understand how cold sores can be triggered in order to prevent a recurrence. A range of environmental and psychological factors can trigger a cold sore flare up at any time. Although these triggers can vary from person to person, the main triggers that lead to a cold sore outbreak are:
1) StressWe’ve all experienced stress at some point in our life. Unfortunately, stress is very common and can harm your physical and emotional health. Stress can weaken your immune system, causing an excellent opportunity for the cold sore virus to activate and produce sores. With compromised immune cells, it will be harder for your body to fight against the infection.
Physical stress can come in the form of your heart racing, trouble sleeping, feelings of panic, quick breathing, trembling or shaking. Emotional stress can lead to feelings of exhaustion, depression, irritability, and mood swings. To relieve yourself from stress, you must tackle stress at the root. Ask yourself, what is causing me the most stress? –Is it work, exams, young children, family issues, financial problems? Whatever the problem is, face it head-on and find ways to reduce whatever problem is causing you that stress and how you can take action to minimize its impact.
Although stress is challenging to avoid in this modern age, it’s essential to take time for yourself and recharge. Give your body the much-needed relaxation it needs to unwind and regroup. By lowering your stress, you’ll allow your body to fight harder to keep unwanted viruses at bay.
Here are some simple ways to reduce stress and anxiety:
- Exercise regularly
- Stop using tobacco and nicotine products
- Study and practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation (Many online and smartphone apps guide these techniques)
- Recognize triggers of stress and research ways to avoid/reduce them
- Use essential oils or burn a scented candle
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Practice gratitude and focus your thoughts on what’s positive in your life
- Spend time with friends and family
- Find ways to laugh more
- Take a yoga class
- Listen to soothing music
- Spend time with your pet
2) Weakened Immune SystemIf you are experiencing a cold or the flu, your body is already suffering from a weakened immune system. As mentioned when discussing the stress trigger, outbreaks of cold sores are more likely to occur when the immune system is weakened, especially by a cold (explaining the origins of the term ‘cold sore’). Usually, your body can prevent the virus from activating and causing blisters, but this becomes challenging when the body is fighting off another virus or infection, leading to a potential cold sore outbreak.
Help your body build a robust immune system that is ready to fight common colds with these tips:
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables rich in zinc, iron, and Vitamins A, C, and E
- Wash your hands more often to reduce germs
- Eliminate all smoking
- Get plenty of rest, so your body is ready to fight common colds
- Avoid being around people who are sick
3) FatigueFeeling run down, exhausted, irritable, or experiencing headaches, dizziness, slowed reflexes, muscle weakness, or soreness are all common signs of fatigue and can make you vulnerable to cold sores. Fatigue can result from mental or physical exertion or illness, directly affecting your immune system, making it difficult for your body to fight off the cold sore virus.
Help reduce fatigue with these suggestions:
- Eat a balanced diet to help boost energy levels
- Get regular exercise (Exercise releases endorphins that naturally boost your energy levels)
- Stay adequately hydrated to keep your body running at optimum levels
- Cut down on caffeine to give you more energy in the long run
- Get lots of quality sleep (Proper rest is essential if you want to maintain energy levels throughout the day)
- Avoid alcohol since it throws your body off balance and leads to poor sleep, especially if you’re dehydrated
- Address your allergies and combat allergic reactions that cause you to feel tired
- Reduce stress to avoid mental and physical exertion
- Sit less by getting up and moving, allowing your energy to flow
- Quit smoking since smoking can reduce your energy by lowering your oxygen levels and making breathing difficult
4) Sun ExposureUnprotected and prolonged sunlight exposure is a common reason for cold sore outbreaks. The sun's UVA and UVB rays can affect the immune system, stimulating the cold sore virus and causing an outbreak. Spending less time unprotected in the sun will help combat your chances of a cold sore recurrence.
To help protect yourself and lower your risk of triggering a cold sore outbreak during and after sun exposure:
- Avoid spending long periods in direct sunlight without sunscreen
- Wear a lip protectant like sunscreen
- Wear a hat to shield your face from sunlight exposure
- Enjoy the outdoors relaxing in the shade
- Avoid devices that produce UV radiation, like tanning beds
If you experience frequent cold sores after spending time in the sun, consider adjusting your habits to ensure your outbreaks don’t happen as often. Cold sores will be easier to manage and live with when you’re able to reduce UV-related causes.
5) Cold/Windy WeatherCold and windy environments can be a cold sore virus trigger. Cold weather can lead to unpleasantly dry and chapped lips, which is an excellent opportunity for cold sores to recur. Harsh wind conditions can result in lip cracks that the herpes virus loves. The temperature change can play a role in producing an outbreak since the body’s ability to fight the infection becomes more challenging.
Counteract the harmful effects of winter weather and protect your lips from damage with these steps:
- Use a natural, nourishing lip balm to keep your lips moist and prevent lips from drying out
- Protect your lips from becoming chapped with proper winter apparel
- Stay warm by dressing appropriately and staying indoors when weather conditions are severe
- Make sure to drink lots of liquids (Hydrated lips can protect you against harsh weather conditions)
6) Dental WorkDental visits, whether routine or emergency, are always essential to our oral hygiene. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety often come with dental visits, which could lead to a cold sore outbreak. Additionally, some people have experienced a cold sore after a dentist has applied pressure to the lip or mouth area.
If you’re worried about experiencing a cold sore after a dental appointment, make sure to follow these tips:
- Communicate with your dentist about your concerns ahead of time to allow them to prepare better (Your dentist will likely avoid using dental instruments that are known to irritate)
- If your lips feel irritated after your appointment, apply a cool compress to promote healing and ease redness
7) Hormonal FluctuationsWhen experiencing hormone changes, the body is usually under much stress, making menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause a prime opportunity for a cold sore outbreak. Hormonal triggers can occur at any time and can be challenging to control.
Easy suggestions to help you become more prepared for unpredictable flare-ups:
- Keep track of your menstrual cycle, so you know when to expect hormonal changes
- If you’re planning on getting pregnant, consult with your doctor about ways to keep cold sores at bay through diet and nutrition
- Catch up on sleep so your body can recover
- Practice relaxation techniques to destress