What Are Cold Sore Triggers?

Reviewed on 9/22/2021

Cold sores on the lip or mouth are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or genital herpes, which can be contagious when a person is experiencing symptoms or not. Triggers for cold sores may include stress, recent fever, illness, fatigue, hormonal changes, sunlight, exposure to wind, cold weather, and more.
Cold sores on the lip or mouth are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or genital herpes, which can be contagious when a person is experiencing symptoms or not. Triggers for cold sores may include stress, recent fever, illness, fatigue, hormonal changes, sunlight, exposure to wind, cold weather, and more.

Cold sores (also called oral herpes or fever blisters) are painful blisters that form on or near the lips and inside the mouth. 

Cold sores are not the same as canker sores. Canker sores are also painful red or white sores that develop in the mouth and on the tongue, but they do not usually blister or form scabs. 

Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is transmitted from person to person through kissing, sharing eating utensils, or other types of close contact.

People who give oral sex to people with genital herpes can also get cold sores on their mouth.

The herpes virus spreads more easily when cold sores are present, but it is also possible to spread the virus when a person has no symptoms. 

Triggers for cold sores may include:

  • Stress
  • Recent fever
  • Illness
  • Fatigue
  • Hormonal changes such as during menstrual periods or pregnancy
  • Sunlight
  • Exposure to wind
  • Cold weather
  • Physical injury 
  • Surgery
  • Dental treatment
  • Weakened immune system

What Are Symptoms of Cold Sores?

Symptoms of cold sores may include: 

  • Painful blisters on the lips, mouth, throat, or nose
    • Blisters open and form scabs 
  • Mouth and throat pain
  • Neck swelling 
  • Body aches
  • Feeling ill (malaise)
  • Fever

Some people may feel pain, burning, tingling, or itching on the lips about a day before cold sores erupt. 

What Is the Treatment for Cold Sores?

There is no cure for herpes, the virus that causes cold sores, but most symptoms usually occur during the first few years following infection. After that, the virus that causes cold sores causes mild symptoms or none at all. When the virus is active, medications are used to help reduce and prevent symptoms.

Most people need treatment the first time symptoms of cold sores occur. People who have previously had cold sores or people who have mild symptoms may not need treatment.

Treatment for cold sores may include:

  • Antiviral medications
  • Antiviral topical ointments
    • Acyclovir (Zovirax ointment or cream)
    • Penciclovir (Denavir topical)
  • Pain-relieving pills and gels that go on the mouth, some of which may be available over-the-counter (OTC)
  • Home remedies 
    • Suck on ice or popsicles
    • Eat cool, soft foods
    • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after applying cream and dab the cream on lightly – do not rub it into the sore
    • Avoid triggers for cold sores
    • Use lip balm with SPF 15 or above
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers can ease pain and swelling
  • When you have a cold sore, avoid: 
    • Kissing people 
    • Sharing eating utensils
    • Oral sex
    • Touching the cold sore, aside from applying cream
    • Eating salty or acidic food if it aggravates the sore

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Reviewed on 9/22/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/cold-sores-oral-herpes-the-basics?search=herpes&source=search_result&selectedTitle=7~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=7

https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/default.htm

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cold-sores/

https://www.abreva.com/about-cold-sores/what-triggers-your-cold-sores/