While cold sores are problematic during any season of the year, cold weather has the potential to make life significantly harder. Why do freezing winds and artificial heating lead to more HSV-1 outbreaks? Could there be more to this unpleasant virus than initially meets the eye?
While most of us fall victim to dry and cracked lips, winter time brings a new and much more challenging set of problems. Due to this unfortunate fact, HSV-1 infection and transmission rise exponentially when the temperatures outside start to plummet.
People feel run down and exhausted, they take tiring vacations to even colder parts of the world, they mix more closely with relatives/friends, and health-related issues are made worse. Our lower levels of resistance to the virus during the winter provide HSV-1 with everything that it needs to thrive.
How Does Cold Weather Trigger Cold Sores?
Cold weather, especially during January to March, can be an absolute nightmare for frequent cold sore sufferers. It can also be an unwelcome surprise for people who’ve never experienced an outbreak. You may not even know that you have the herpes simplex virus inside your body, but the coldest season of the year causes it to raise its ugly head. Once infected, HSV-1 is with you for life.
Let’s look at some of the possible reasons why people are more prone to cold sores when it gets really cold outside:
#1. Cracks in the Lips
Between the temperature itself and brisk winds, your lips are often no match for mother nature.
Adverse weather causes dryness and cracking of the lips. This type of manipulation can be unrelenting during the winter season. When your lips are cracked both HSV-1 infection, as well as transmission, increases sharply.
Cracked lips make it easy for the herpes simplex virus to enter your body. It quickly becomes clear why a lack of moisture around the mouth and lips is so problematic. Cold temperatures rob your lips of lubrication. Constant exposure to the elements will, as you might expect, increase the likelihood of getting cold sores.
#2. Indoor Heating
While cold weather can serve as a trigger, warming yourself up with indoor heat could aid in spreading the virus. Especially the constant blowing of warm air from centralized vents or an electric heater. Artificial indoor heating is most certainly no friend to your lips, and there’s often no way to control it when we’re at work.
Indoor heating, like cold weather, can dry out your lips and skin. This is not only problematic for the virus carrier but potentially others as well. Most notably friends, family, and work colleagues.
Avoiding extreme temperature swings is really important. This not only applies to cold sores but also to general health. It is not good for your skin or your body. Temperature stability is the key to enjoying good health. The goal is to strike a healthy balance between temperature extremes.
#3. Weak immune system
Cold and flu is something that most of us have to deal with more often in the winter. You wake up feeling sluggish, your body temperature is erratic, and your nose/eyes are streaming. It’s horrible.
Aside from the fact that it can make you feel lousy, having a winter sickness (such as the common cold) WILL weaken your immune system. This means that you’re far more vulnerable to the herpes simplex virus. If you’re also tired and run down, the situation is even worse.
While people do get colds and coughs at other times of the year, the prevalence increases sharply when the weather starts to change for the worse. There’s no cure for the common cold, but taking an echinacea supplement can give your immune system a much-needed boost.
We all know that UV rays are also a cold sore trigger. They dry out the skin in a similar way to cold weather, so how can sunlight help?
Sunlight provides the body with essential vitamin D. This critical vitamin helps the body heal while keeping immune health strong. However, lack of proper sunlight is a common theme in winter months. This is another reason why cold sores thrive during extremely cold temperatures.
While you can certainly have a frigid or snowy day with bright sunshine, the winter season is known for prolonged periods of overcast conditions. Mass cloud cover, rain, fog, etc., are common during this segment of the calendar.
Prolonged weeks of this weather pattern essentially blocks the sun. A lack of sun rays can, unfortunately, mean lack of cold sore healing for you. In other words, you take longer to heal and you’re infectious to others for an extended period.
Having an ample supply of vitamin D supplements is important during the winter months. Since cold weather can trigger cold sores, consuming vitamin D can help you to enjoy a quicker recovery from the herpes simplex virus.
- Important: Vitamin D, especially vitamin D3, is vital for a healthy immune system. If you don’t get a sufficient amount of this important vitamin through your diet, consider taking a quality supplement. Even a daily multi vitamin with be beneficial.
You’re likely starting to realize that people get cold sores because several factors conspire against you at the same time.
#5. Overseas Vacations
You could be looking for a weather ‘escape’. While it is human nature to want to avoid a harsh winter, your decision to go abroad on vacation to a sunnier climate could cause a new set of issues. Going to a hot and dry climate to escape the cold temperatures can also be harmful to your lips. We mentioned earlier that sunny weather and UV rays also dry out the lips/mouth area.
This is also true if you enjoy artificial tanning (sunbeds). Basking in the glow of fake sun can dry out your lips and lead to a primary or recurrent cold sore outbreak. UV rays, regardless of the source, all cause damage the skin. They compromise the skin’s ability to protect you from potential harm.
Also, some people like to escape the heat by heading for snowy conditions, perhaps due to a love of skiing or ice skating. If you endure prolonged cold weather (even with the proper protection in place) at high speeds, you’re far more likely to get cold sores.
#6. Winter Fatigue
Cold temperatures can drain your body of strength and vitality. While the changes are typically subtle, just 2-3 months of harsh winter weather can wear you out. You’re less likely to take some time off work when the weather’s unpleasant. It’s perfectly natural for you to become run down, but some of us are more prone to HSV-1 than others.
The general fatigue caused by the grind of winter can cause cold sores. This is a double-barrel combination. Not only can the actual temperature be a problem but the fatigue it causes can be just as bad. Stated simply, your body is less likely to be in a position to protect you.
Whether you carry HSV-1 or not, a weakened immune system can spell trouble. If you don’t get sufficient sleep, you’re less able to fight off viruses and infections. That’s why it’s important to go to bed a bit earlier and do what you can to relax before you attempt to sleep.
A well-rested person is statistically less likely to experience a painful fever blister outbreak.
Arthritis, especially chronic arthritis, can trigger substantial inflammation within the body. This symptom worsens when it’s freezing cold. Due to the release of the stress hormone known as cortisol, cold sore outbreaks can occur more frequently.
Cortisol can deplete your immune system, just like a basic illness. Cold temperatures make the negative results caused by cortisol more intense. You are encouraged to remain as healthy as possible. By changing your eating and drinking habits, you could make the world of difference.
Having to deal with debilitating arthritis during cold weather is bad enough. The occurrence and pain of a cold sore make the situation worse.
#8. Surgery and Dentistry
While medical procedures can naturally take a toll on your body, the issue is exacerbated during cold weather months. If you carry HSV-1, the stress placed on your body can trigger cold sores.
Another factor is the use of pain medication and antibiotics. Although designed to help you recover from surgery, certain medications can hamper the immune system. This, along with the noted stress, can only increase the odds of a cold sore breakout.
It is critical that you boost your immune system after surgery. Just the simple act of staying hydrated can work in your favor. You are encouraged to work with your doctor and take the proper steps to strengthen your body.
If you get dental work, this can sometimes cause trauma to the mouth and lips. Trauma to the lips is like a more extreme form of cracked lips. When combined with freezing temperatures and fatigue, it’s much more likely that you’ll experience a painful cold sore outbreak.
#9. Holiday Stress
Deemed by many as the happiest time of the year, the holiday season can also be the most stressful.
From personal to financial and everything in between, the month of December can act as one giant cold sore trigger. When you add cold weather, you have a potential powder keg.
The holiday season introduces unique challenges and additional people. The more people come together, and the more cold sores can flare up.
Let’s take a more detailed look at many of the pitfalls associated with the holidays.
- December can be a highly stressful month. Personal obligations, financial burdens, occupational deadlines, etc. The stress of finishing things on time becomes a burden during this part of the calendar. The more that is on your mental plate, the more it taxes your body.
- Are you the one who enjoys a Christmas party? Perhaps several? While big gatherings are enjoyable, they can come at a price. Although significant changes in temperature can trigger cold sores, so can other people. The introduction of friends, family, distant relatives, etc., can cause the herpes simplex virus to spread. Shared beverage bowls and drinks can be problematic.
- While love is in the air on Valentine’s Day, the Christmas and holiday season can create a similar atmosphere. However, kissing and other acts of intimacy can be a problem. This is made all the more questionable in a harsh winter climate.
How to Prevent Fever Blisters in Cold Weather
Although cold sore treatment is critical, winter weather prevention can save you a lot of trouble. By simply being proactive you can potentially escape an annoying and painful situation.
Regardless of your outdoor activities, the power of lip balm for cold sores is invaluable. HSV-1 preys on chapped lips. Lip balm can act as a shield against dryness and cracks. The addition of a scarf can also provide extra protection.
Foods rich in vitamins are also a plus. Especially vitamin C and D. Consuming the vitamins in supplement form is also recommended. This is very much advised if you are constantly on the move. Vitamin D can give your body an immune boost in the absence of natural sunlight.
Here are some quick tips concerning cold sore prevention during cold weather.
- Carry chapstick at all times. Keeping your lips moisturized cannot be understated. Cracked and dry lips increase the odds of both HSV-1 infection and transmission. Vitamin consumption is also recommended.
- Clothing accessories that cover the face are also important. Any scarf or mask that covers the face is a positive.
Keeping your lips protected and moisturized is critically important if you want to avoid getting cold sores. HSV-1 thrives on breaks and cracks of the lips/mouth. While nothing is foolproof, you will do yourself a great service by having a chapstick at the ready.
While halting your daily routine due to seasonal changes is not advised, be mindful of weather conditions. This is especially true if you carry HSV-1 and are prone to outbreaks. Give your body more time to rest and recover when you feel tired/sick.
By keeping your body healthy and your lips free of cracks, you have a better chance of enjoying the winter months. Know your body. Remain proactive. Enjoy the winter season.
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