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Why Do Cold Sores Keep Coming Back?

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.
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