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Home > Dental Conditions > Cold Sores > Cold Sore Symptoms & Causes > What Causes Cold Sores
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What Causes Cold Sores? (Trust Us, You Want to Know)


So it's happened again. You've been feeling a little stressed or under the weather and before you know it, you've got blister on your lips that you're sure everyone will notice. You may find yourself asking, "How did I get this?" "Why me -- and why now?"

If it makes you feel better, up to 80 percent of the population suffers from cold sores, also known as fever blisters. But like most of the population, you'd rather not get them. Knowing what causes cold sores can help prevent future outbreaks. We'll help you understand the causes of cold sores so you can better protect youself from a flare-up.

Do You Know What Causes Cold Sores?

What causes cold sores? Causes of cold sores flare with changes.

You may have heard that the causes of cold sores include stress or diet. While outside factors can trigger an outbreak, they are not the reason you get cold sores in the first place. So what's the real culprit behind cold sore causes? Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus -- yes, the same virus that causes genital herpes. There are two types of herpes simplex: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Herpes simplex type one is primarily responsible for cold sores, while type two is connected to genital herpes. But if you've only been exposed to HSV-2, don't think you're in the clear from developing cold sores -- both types of HSV have been known to cause cold sores.

Cold sores are usually contracted through direct contact with someone who is experiencing an outbreak. HSV is a very contagious virus that is easily spread through kissing, sharing utensils or hand-to-mouth contact. The virus normally enters the body through a break in the skin near or inside the mouth and travels to your facial nerves, where it remains dormant until you experience an outbreak. When the virus becomes active, it travels to the skin and forms a cold sore.

Cold Sores Causes, Part II

While more research is needed to fully understand cold sore causes, we do know some of the factors that trigger them to flare up. Cold sore symptoms can appear at any time, but HSV-1 tends to become more active when your immune system is compromised. When your body's defenses are weakened, it opens you up to variety of illnesses, including cold sores. There are several other variables that may factor into the causes of cold sores, including:

  • Stress
  • Trauma or injury
  • Fatigue
  • Cold, flu or fever
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Weakened immune system
  • Change in diet
  • Hormonal changes
  • Age (children are much more susceptible to cold sores than adults)

Complications From Cold Sores

Are cold sores causes of other problems? Unfortunately, yes -- it is possible to spread the virus from one area of your body to another, putting you at risk for genital herpes and other complications. An infection in the eyes could lead to blindness (herpes simplex is the leading cause of blindness in America). Although rare, it can also cause viral meningitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. If you suffer from cold sores, it's extremely important that you wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes or other areas of your body to prevent spreading the virus.

Preventing the Causes of Cold Sores

Now that you know what causes cold sores, you can take the right steps to help prevent them. Practice good oral hygiene and avoid direct contact with anyone who is having an outbreak. Because the herpes simplex virus can live outside the body, don't share utensils, towels, lip balm or anything else that has come in contact with a cold sore.

If you already suffer from fever blisters, avoiding cold sore causes can help minimize flare-ups. Wearing sunscreen on your lips, reducing stress and taking measures to prevent colds and the flu can also help control outbreaks. As children are extremely susceptible to the virus, be sure to protect them from the causes of cold sores as well. And if you suffer from frequent outbreaks, talk to your doctor or dentist. You may be able to control your cold sore outbreaks with prescription medications.

If you need a dentist to help you handle your cold sore problem, call us at 1-866-970-0441.

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