Cold sores can strike at almost any time, although it often seems that they occur at the least appropriate time possible. But here are some steps you can take to minimize these outbreaks.
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which is spread primarily through mouth-to-mouth contact. Once you contract HSV-1, it never truly goes away, though it may be dormant for lengthy periods of time. When something triggers the virus, cold sores appear.
HSV-1 is very common; according to the World Health Organization, around 3.7 billion people, or 67 percent of the world population, have the virus.
What many people don’t understand is what triggers the cold sores. Based on the word “cold” in the common name for these flare-ups, you probably expect to see cold sores when you have a cold or the flu, and that is when many patients find that they suffer flare-ups. But what about cold sores that appear when you’re not sick? What triggers them? Take a look at some cold sore triggers that you may never have thought of before.
Too Much Sun
Have you ever noticed that you develop a cold sore shortly after spending a day at the beach? It may be that being out in the sun and being exposed to the UV radiation from the sunlight triggered your outbreak.
Despite the perception that a tan makes the skin look healthy, UV exposure actually weakens and ages your skin. Ultraviolet rays negatively impact your skin’s ability to protect itself, which makes a flare-up more likely. You don’t have to get a sunburn in order to trigger the outbreak, either. Just being exposed to the sun, or using a tanning bed, is enough to trigger a flare-up.
Of course, you can’t avoid the sun entirely, and you probably wouldn’t want to — time in the sun can help give you a vitamin D boost. However, you should protect yourself by using sunscreen, choosing a moisturizer that contains sunscreen, and wearing lip balm that contains sunscreen. Remember that even casual exposure to the sun can trigger an outbreak, so don’t save the SPF for beach days. If you’re going outdoors at all, you should take steps to protect your skin.
In some cases, you may be experiencing cold sore outbreaks because of a medication that your doctor prescribes. Certain types of medications can suppress your immune system, preventing it from working properly.
Patients are often prescribed immunosuppressant medications when they suffer from an autoimmune disease such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. These diseases cause your immune system to overreact and attack your own healthy tissues, causing unpleasant symptoms. You may also take immunosuppressant drugs if you’ve had an organ transplant, to prevent your body from rejecting the transplanted organ.
Immunosuppressant drugs help keep the immune system under control, but with the immune system depressed, you may be more vulnerable to a variety of viruses, including flare-ups of HSV-1. If you’ve been prescribed immunosuppressant drugs and are experiencing cold sore outbreaks, it’s important to talk to your doctor. You don’t have to just give up and deal with the cold sores, but when you’re taking medication for a serious illness, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any new medications to deal with symptoms.
If you’re a woman, you may notice that you develop cold sores during your period or shortly before your period is scheduled to start. If you become pregnant, you may also develop cold sores at unpredictable times.
This happens because menstruation and pregnancy cause significant hormonal fluctuations for women. While you may be feeling fine, your body is working harder than it usually does to cope with these fluctuations. They can affect your moods, your sleep cycle, and your immune system. When the immune system is compromised, a dormant virus like HSV-1 can more easily be triggered.
If you know that an outbreak is likely during a certain time period, you can take steps to prevent it. During pregnancy, you may not want to take oral medication to suppress cold sore outbreaks, but a topical medication like Denavir cream can decrease symptoms and hasten healing. Make sure to apply the cream as soon as any symptoms occur. If you begin applying medication when you first notice tingling or redness in the area, you may be able to head off a full-blown cold sore.
Fatigue and Insomnia
Are you not sleeping well? Struggling with insomnia? A lack of sleep can be the trigger that causes a cold sore outbreak. Your body needs sleep to function properly, and your immune system is no exception to this rule. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your immune system can be compromised, and you might experience an outbreak.
Occasional sleeplessness happens to everyone, but if you’re really struggling with sleep on a regular basis, you’ll want to work on that. Getting enough rest can help you avoid cold sores, and it’s also important for your overall health. Exercising, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation can all help you get a better night’s sleep.
Too Much Stress
Stress affects your immune system in much the same way that fatigue does (and sleeplessness can be one possible source of stress in your life.) It decreases your body’s ability to fight off disease effectively and can also trigger cold sores.
It’s helpful to look for ways to reduce stress in your life if you can, but stress can’t be avoided entirely – everyone deals with it occasionally. And it’s important to remember that even good stress can affect your immune system. For example, planning a wedding, going to college, moving far away, or starting a new job can all be happy events in your life, but they still cause stress. Which means that even if you feel great, your immune system could be depressed, and you could be at risk for cold sores.
Oral medications like acyclovir and Valtrex can suppress the HSV-1 virus and help prevent outbreaks, even during stressful times in your life. These medications don’t cure the virus, but they do weaken it, slowing the growth of the virus, which reduces the symptoms and prevents outbreaks from lasting as long as they might otherwise.
Talk to your doctor about your cold sores to find out what kinds of medications might best treat or prevent your outbreaks. Longtime online facilitator eDrugstore.com supplies several medications that are effective in treating cold sores. To learn more, click here to visit eDrugstore’s Sexual Health page.
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