Cold sores, otherwise known as oral herpes, are experienced by more than half of American adults. They consist of a recurrent skin condition, which is usually but not always mild, that results in blisters being formed on or around your lips. They are also sometimes found on your cheeks or nose or, much less often, elsewhere on your body. Cold sores have no relation to the common cold and are not caused by cold weather. However, they likely had a former connection with those things in people’s minds despite that not being accurate, and that’s how they received their name.

These infections are usually not too painful, but they can be, and the pain can sometimes even seem unbearable to sufferers. In addition, an unfortunate minority, about 5-10%, experience cold sores more than five times a year. People often have an outbreak of them shortly after contracting the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) that causes cold sores, and initial ones tend to be more painful than ones contracted later in life. Meanwhile, some quickly develop antibodies after the initial cold sores have come and gone that work so well that they never experience another one despite the virus still being in their system.

Do consider that complications can occur. While rare, if this type of infection spreads to the eye or brain, the repercussions are more serious. Cold sores suffered by children or those with depressed immune systems can be dangerous as well.

In addition, many are simply embarrassed by them and want them gone for that reason with the pain factor being not of much importance to them. Regardless of the reasons, sufferers want to know how to prevent a cold sore as the surest way to cure one is to keep it from happening in the first place.

Note that causes of cold sores can vary from person to person, so it can help if you keep notes of what preceded ones that you’ve had in the past or are currently having to see what your most likely triggers are. Many of the causes are related to activities, illnesses, diet and life events.

Common Triggers

Being in close contact with someone who is infected with this virus can cause you to contract it and, even if you already have it, increase the odds that you’ll experience cold sores. Kissing someone who’s infected as well as using eating utensils, drinking cups, toothbrushes, razors and towels that they’ve used can do the same. You also want to wash your hands frequently to reduce the odds of contracting them from someone else.

Do your best to reduce your stress level. Engage in yoga. Go on walks. If possible, lessen the number of hours that you work. Do whatever you can to reduce your stress, and that will, in many cases, reduce how often you experience outbreaks.

Related to stress, you should also ensure that you are experiencing an adequate amount of sleep. Although what’s required varies from person to person, most struggle with fewer than seven hours a night. Getting less than that, especially on an ongoing basis, dramatically increases the odds that you’ll soon suffer from a cold sore outbreak.

Avoid getting sick. Of course, this is often easier said than done and is also likely something that you’re already attempting to avoid, but it should be pointed out that suffering from a cold or the flu will increase the odds of you having a cold sore outbreak. Also, simply having a weakened immune system increases the chances that you will suffer from a cold sore. Note that, although you likely cannot avoid this, undergoing surgery is a possible cause of cold sores as well.

Always use sunscreen and lip balm. This is because sunlight is another cause of cold sores. Even artificial UV light is a cause for many people. Wind is a possible trigger as well.

Be careful with the skin around your lips as injuries to it can spark an outbreak. So can cracks in your lips.

Avoiding some foods and drinks can reduce your chances of an outbreak. These can include nuts, seeds, coconut, popcorn, chocolate, gelatin, orange juice and beer. Conversely, options that you should consume more of as they are believed to reduce outbreaks can include milk products, apples, beets, dried beans, fish and chicken. Taking vitamin supplements with vitamins C and E and foods high in those vitamins can help too.

Note that birth control pills sometimes result in one or more instances of HSV-1 causing cold sores to appear. So can menstruation, other hormonal changes and the taking of steroids.


Physicians can also prescribe medication that can help prevent cold sores. This is usually systemic medication, which means that it enters the bloodstream and is spread throughout the body; it’s not focused on one part of it. This can inhibit the replication of viruses. Some of the most popular options that do this are valaciclovir, famciclovir and aciclovir, which are all usually taken in tablet form.

Medication can be taken with an eye towards long-term treatment and avoidance as well as short-term. The former is done with a goal of lowering outbreaks in general. The latter is done in response to triggers that the patient knows has resulted in an outbreak in the past and wants to attempt to nip it in the bud or, in lieu of that, reduce the severity of its symptoms. For example, this person may have just gone on a skiing trip and enjoyed a lot of sunlight there while also being accidentally hit in the face with a ski pole.

There have been no conclusive studies that treatment helps in either the short or long term, but it’s not been disproven either, and many swear by them. It’s believed by some that aciclovir helps reduce cold sores from returning by a third. Note that most studies have involved that drug, which is generally well-tolerated although little is known about any risks involved with using it on a long-term basis. However, a series of studies did show that participants with a weakened immune system due to undergoing chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant who used aciclovir saw their breakouts be reduced.

Other options that some use while looking to prevent cold sores include antiviral ointments, gels and creams. However, many believe that these are not able to help since they don’t reach the nerve cells that cause HSV-1 to result in cold sores.

Some others that have received minimal-to-no research include applying heat, hypnosis, laser treatment and lysine.

But a Cold Sore Still Appeared…

If none of those preventative methods worked and you still experienced an outbreak, rest assured that the cold sores should heal within 7-10 days. Also consider that some of the preventative methods, especially as they relate to medication, can help lessen the severity of cold sores once they have appeared. For example, famciclovir and valacyclovir have been shown to lessen the duration of an outbreak by a day or two. Antiviral creams can help too. Do take into account that the earlier you start medication, the more effective it will be.

Take a careful look back at your recent past to see what might have caused this outbreak to see if you can prevent it from happening again. As far as the future goes, keep an even more diligent eye on your body and what may end up causing any more to occur in the future. Unfortunately, this is an inexact science, but, hopefully, taking these steps will reduce your cold sore outbreaks as time passes.