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Does Winter Weather Trigger More Cold Sores?

Woman with cold sore covering her mouthIt’s all too common to hear people talking about the common cold or the flu during these colder months, but what about cold sores? Research shows that outbreaks of these inflamed blisters could be closely linked to the winter weather.

As wacky as this may sound, clinical studies have shown that the cold seems to reactivate the HSV-1 virus that produces these sores. Even the simple act of moving from the low temperatures outside to the toasty temp inside can be sharp enough to trigger the outbreak for those with the virus.

(Have you gotten a cold sore before? We are currently enrolling research volunteers for a new study here in Birmingham– click here for more information.)

Looking at the bigger picture, there are several reasons why cold sores are more likely to manifest themselves during these winter months:

  • Harsher winds can lead to dry and cracked lips which are more inviting to viruses like HSV-1.
  • Follow that up with artificially heated air inside that can actually promote more outbreaks.
  • Top that all off with the fact that people tend to get less vitamin D during these months as they spend more time inside. This leads to a weaker immune system and a higher risk of cold sores.

Additional Winter Triggers for Cold Sores

Clinical trials have shown us that there are many potential things that can trigger a cold sore outbreak– such as high levels of stress. Things like last minute Christmas shopping or planning holiday parties can add to a person’s stress levels during this time of the year. The simple truth is that this will most likely lead to an outbreak in people infected with the HSV-1 virus.

Of course, there are plenty of other illnesses that might be floating around during these winter month. Thanks to generally weaker immune systems and more hours spent together indoors, these additional infections can easily trigger cold sore outbreaks and vice versa. The human body can only hold off so many attackers before something has to give.

People living with a condition like osteoarthritis (OA) or another form of chronic arthritis often produces high levels of cortisol. This stress hormone causes a range of issues for the body such as immune system suppression which can trigger the blisters. The winter months can pose several problems for people living with these medical conditions.

Unfortunately, it’s become all too popular for some people to use tanning booths in order to keep their summer color. Exposure to these artificial UV rays can be harmful to the body in several ways. Not only can it lead to skin cancer, but it can also irritate the skin around the mouth and trigger a cold sore outbreak. We highly recommend that you avoid using tanning beds.

What are these Inflamed Blisters Anyway?

Mouth that's free of HSV-1 blisters or other symptomsThey may not all look the same, but these blisters can be quite painful and embarrassing. Cold sores are a form of herpes otherwise known as herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1). It’s not as serious as genital herpes (HSV-2), but the National Institutes of Health estimates that more than half of the population gets infected by the time they reach their 20s. If that’s not shocking enough, the Mayo Clinic estimates that 90% of the adults around the world would test positive for HSV-1.

Cold sores are a fluid-filled blisters or lesions that manifest around or on the lips. The virus is obviously quite contagious, even when someone doesn’t present with physical symptoms. We have yet to develop a cure for this infection and HSV-1 will remain in the body forever. If you’d like to learn more about cold sores, please visit our condition page.

Cold Sore Prevention Tips

The best way to protect yourself from HSV-1 and cold sores is to avoid personal contact with people who are infected. In addition to not coming into contact with a sore, you don’t want to share any food or utensils.

Those who are living with occasional cold sores can incorporate a variety of lifestyle habits that will help lower their risk of outbreak. Here are some tips which can help you get started off on the right track during these winter months:

  • Practice relaxation techniques if you feel a little too stressed
  • Incorporate more healthy habits to bolster the immune system (consider taking vitamin D supplements)
  • Protect the skin around the mouth from the harsh weather with a scarf
  • Further protect your lips by using lip balm

If you would like to learn more about living with HSV-1 or preventing cold sore outbreaks, we highly recommend that you check out the American Skin Association.

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