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The best way to reduce your risk of cold sore is to avoid an infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV). Unfortunately, most people are infected by the virus when they are children. Once you have HSV, it cannot be cured. You can lower the risk of recurrent cold sores by changing some lifestyle activities.

Here are some tips to reduce your risk of getting an HSV infection or having recurrent outbreaks of cold sores:

Avoid Exposure to the Virus that Causes Cold Sores

HSV can be spread by close contact with someone who has a cold sore. It can also spread by their sharing personal items such as towels, razors, or eating utensils. Do not kiss, have close contact with, or share personal items with someone who has an active cold sore. This also applies with someone who thinks they are about to have a cold sore. HSV can also spread to the genital area by having oral sex. Do not let a partner with an active cold sore perform oral sex on you.

Avoid Excessive Exposure to the Sun

Exposure to sunlight is known to cause outbreaks of cold sores. It is impossible to avoid all sun exposure but you can reduce the sun's effect. Use sunscreen on your lips and skin. Also, whenever you go outside in sunny weather, wear a large-brimmed hat. This will help to protect your face from the ultraviolet rays.

Reduce Physical and Emotional Stress

Physical and emotional stress may reduce the body’s ability to fight HSV. Stress can also trigger an outbreak of cold sores.

Exercise can help to reduce emotional stress. However, excessive exercise can weaken the body. Relaxation techniques , such as meditation and deep breathing, can help reduce emotional stress.

Practice Good Hygiene Habits

Good hygiene can prevent the spread of cold sores. It may also help to reduce the length and severity of the outbreaks. During an outbreak:

  • Avoid touching the sores, especially avoid contact with any open cuts on your skin.
  • Wash your hands often during the day.
  • Take care not to spread the virus to other parts of your body such as the eyes and genital area.

Get Adequate Sleep and Eat a Healthful Diet

The body heals fastest when it receives rest and good nutrition. Strive for a good night’s sleep. Eat a balanced, healthful diet .

References:

Herpes labialis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 27, 2011. Accessed March 20, 2013.

Herpes simplex. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/viral/herpes-simplex.html. Updated February 6, 2013. Accessed March 20, 2013.

Kuehl B. Cold sores: how to prevent and treat them. Skin Care Guide website. Available at: http://www.skincareguide.ca/articles/herpes/to_prevent_cold_sores.html. Accessed March 20, 2013.



Last reviewed March 2014 by David L. Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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