Cold sores recur because the herpes simplex virus which causes them doesn’t leave the body. While cold sores, a common symptom of the virus, disappear, the virus stays dormant until something triggers another outbreak.
Cold Sores and the Herpes Simplex Virus
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes cold sores, while herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) usually causes genital lesions. However, either strain can cause cold sores.
Touching someone with a cold sore, through cuddling, kissing, or sex, for example, is a common way to get HSV-1. The virus can also be spread when sharing food, drink, towels, and other items with someone with a cold sore. You can contract HSV-1 from contact with someone with the virus but no visible cold sores.
Triggers That Keep Cold Sores Coming Back
Once you have HSV-1, there’s no fool-proof way to stop cold sores occurring. However, taking antivirals can help reduce the frequency of the outbreaks. Having a healthy body and immune system can also reduce the chance or outbreaks from occurring. The following factors all increase the risk of cold sores returning:
- Reusing glasses, towels, eating utensils, bedding, and other items you used when you had a cold sore without thorough cleaning.
- Using lip balm, lipstick, or gloss you’ve used when you had a cold sore.
- Spending a lot of time in the sun, especially without sunscreen.
- Feeling stressed.
- Eating fatty and sugary foods.
- Not getting enough sleep.