Can You Get a Cold Sore From Sun Exposure?

person researching sun exposure cold sores

Cold sores are common, as the Mayo Clinic notes, and if you've had these painful blisters before, they may reappear periodically. After spending a fun day out in the sun, you may feel the familiar burning or tingling sensation that signals the arrival of a cold sore. A day or so later, the telltale fluid-filled blisters may appear on the outer edge of your lip. Is this just a coincidence, or can you actually get a cold sore from sun exposure?

Causes of Cold Sores

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The World Health Organization estimates that 3.7 billion people under age 50 are infected with this virus across the world, and the majority of them don't know it. The infection is mostly asymptomatic, but some people will get periodic outbreaks of cold sores. The virus can be spread through oral contact, such as kissing. The Mayo Clinic warns that sharing items, such as lip balm, towels or utensils, can also spread the virus.

Cold Sore Triggers

Unfortunately, there's no cure for HSV-1, so once you've been infected, you'll have it for the rest of your life. The Mayo Clinic explains that, between cold sore outbreaks, the virus hides in your skin's nerve cells. Certain conditions can then trigger or ""wake up"" the dormant virus, resulting in a new outbreak.

Cedars-Sinai notes that exposure to hot sun can trigger an outbreak, which is why you may sometimes get a cold sore from sun exposure. Sunburn can also trigger an outbreak, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Some other possible cold sore triggers include:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Illnesses, such as colds or the flu
  • Exposure to wind
  • Very hot or cold temperatures
  • Dry or cracked lips

How to Prevent Outbreaks

Cedars-Sinai notes that you may be able to prevent future cold sore outbreaks by avoiding your triggers. If you notice that you get a cold sore from sun exposure, wear sunscreen and lip balm with SPF when you plan to spend time outdoors.

If you get cold sore outbreaks often, talk to your doctor. They may suggest other ways to prevent recurrences. For some people who get frequent, painful cold sores, oral antiviral medications can be helpful, as Cedars-Sinai reports.

Tips to Speed Healing

As the Mayo Clinic reassures, without treatment, cold sore blisters will usually go away within two to four weeks. To encourage your cold sore to heal more quickly, you may want to try some proven home remedies.

The Mayo Clinic suggests holding a cool, damp cloth against your sores to promote healing and remove crusting. Over-the-counter cold sore ointments that contain docosanol may also help the sore heal faster. To relieve pain while the sores heal, you may want to try over-the-counter creams that contain benzocaine or lidocaine.

For some people, sun exposure can trigger cold sore outbreaks. If you get a cold sore from sun exposure, wearing sunscreen may help prevent future outbreaks. If you get frequent outbreaks, or if your cold sore doesn't go away on its own, ask your doctor or dentist for advice.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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