According to Johns Hopkins, 50-80% of all adults living in the United States have oral herpes. This means that at some point in their lifetime, they have contracted the herpes simplex virus. Within that adult population, it has been found that the older someone gets, the more likely they are to experience cold sore outbreaks. So, why do cold sores get worse with age?
Anyone can experience outbreaks for many different reasons. Once the virus is inside you, it doesn’t matter how old you are. You won’t be immune to flare-ups. Even children can experience cold sores. However, it does often seem that when a blister hits an older individual, it feels worse. There are several reasons for why this is the case.
Perhaps you’ve had the herpes simplex virus since you were young, but you’re only experiencing cold sores now. People over the age of 50 tend to experience flare-ups more than anyone else.
Whether you only have to go through one or two cold sores in your lifetime, or you’re prone to getting them frequently, they can be painful and embarrassing. Knowing what might be causing them and how to get rid of them is important. As we age, dealing with painful blisters is the last thing we want. So, once you’re more informed as to what might be causing your flare-ups, you can take more preventative measures.
What Triggers Cold Sores as We Age?
This article will focus on why we experience flare-ups more as we get older. If you’re over 50 and you’re starting to notice cold sores like never before, there are several reasons.
Thankfully, some of the common causes can be held back. Cold sores are never 100% preventable at any age. But, knowing what triggers them for you can allow you to take precautions. Just because you’re aging doesn’t mean you have to experience fever blisters for the rest of your life constantly. Let’s take a look at how you can reduce their frequency and severity.
Weakened Immune System
One of the most common causes of cold sore flare-ups is a weakened immune system. Remember, cold sores are caused by a virus. When that virus has a chance to grow and thrive, it will take it. Your immune system typically does a good job of preventing that from happening.
However, as we get older, our immune systems tend to weaken a bit. Fewer white blood cells in the body can directly respond to antigens (toxins). Additionally, older people produce fewer antibodies, and the immune system can even become less tolerant of your body’s existing cells.
Because the immune system doesn’t work as efficiently as it once does, many older adults go through several types of vaccinations. These include shots for pneumonia, hepatitis, and even the flu. Unfortunately, there isn’t a vaccination available for the herpes simplex virus.
You may be more prone to things like the common cold and flu, but a weak immune system also makes it easier for HSV-1 to be triggered within you. This can cause a flare-up quickly.
There are many possibilities surrounding vitamin deficiencies in older adults. Some seniors don’t have the appetite that they once had. It becomes more difficult to include a variety of healthy foods in your daily diet. You may also be dealing with other illnesses or conditions, that limit the foods you can eat.
Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 are some of the most common nutrients often struggling to stay strong in older people. Many times, we don’t get outside as much as we age. While too much sun can be harmful (and trigger cold sores if you’re not properly protected), getting enough of it is necessary for an adequate amount of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D helps your body to absorb different nutrients. Without it, you may develop softer skin and brittle bones. Vitamin B12 is necessary to keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. It also helps to prevent anemia.
If you lack any necessary nutrition from your daily diet, you may be opening yourself up to a higher risk of viral infections. In the case of HSV-1, that could mean more frequent cold sore flare-ups.
Longer Exposure Time
It may seem obvious, but one of the reasons older individuals experience more cold sores is because they have often been exposed to the virus for a longer period. The older we get, the more opportunities we have to contract the virus.
Additionally, many seniors spend a lot of time in close-knit communities. If you’re around a lot of people all the time, your chances of ‘catching’ a cold sore may increase. They are highly contagious. Sharing utensils or food, or coming in direct contact with someone who has a blister can cause you to experience an outbreak.
What Else Can Trigger Cold Sores?
If you find yourself getting blisters more frequently as you get older, you may be wondering what triggers them specifically. People experience flare-ups for different reasons. However, some of the most common causes include:
- Hormonal changes, such as menstruation and pregnancy
- Exposure to sunlight (UV rays)
- Extreme cold temperatures
- Dental procedures
Have you experienced any of these before getting a cold sore? Knowing your triggers can make it easier to prevent flare-ups in the future.
What Can I Do to Stop Frequent Outbreaks?
Unfortunately, once you have the herpes simplex virus, it will never go away. Therefore, you may never be able to get rid of cold sores completely. However, there are precautionary measures you can take. These can help to reduce how often you experience flare-ups. They can also help to cut back on the severity of a cold sore once it happens. Keep these tips in mind:
- Eat the right foods. Some foods can help boost your immune system and fight back against cold sores. Foods rich in Vitamin C (citrus) will help to boost your immunity. Foods rich in zinc (eggs, dairy, fish) will help to reduce the severity of cold sore outbreaks. Lysine is an amino acid not naturally produced by the body. But, introducing it through the food you eat can help to block fever blisters. Lysine is found in foods like fish and dairy. If you don’t get proper nutrition through your diet, take daily supplements.
- Avoid the ‘wrong’ foods. Some foods can help to prevent cold sores and foods that may make it easier for them to occur. Avoid caffeine, too much sugar, and foods rich in arginine. Arginine is an amino acid that can promote the frequency of cold sores. It is found in foods like nuts, oats, and chocolate.
- Reduce the chances of spreading. If you know someone who has a cold sore, avoid coming in direct contact with them. Never share utensils, food, drinks, etc. The herpes simplex virus can live on objects for a while. So, if someone with a cold sore has touched something to their face, you should avoid it until it has been cleaned. Additionally, make sure to wash your hands frequently. If you already have a fever blister, reduce the risk of spreading as much as possible. Don’t touch your face, be sure to wash or get rid of anything that has touched it.
- Protect yourself from harsh weather conditions. If you’re sensitive to sunlight exposure, wear a UV-protection lip balm. Cover your face in extremely cold conditions.
- Start a cold sore treatment you can trust. There are many treatment options on the market. Over-the-counter solutions and home remedies are very popular when it comes to getting rid of blisters. Find one that will help to reduce the severity of your symptoms, and speed up healing time. Then, you can be sure to have it on hand at all times. The sooner you treat a cold sore blister, the less likely it is to be severe and painful. Treating it at the earliest signs of symptoms with HERP-B-Gone cream can even prevent it from bursting through the skin.
Can I Prevent Cold Sores as I Get Older?
Once you have the herpes simplex virus, you have it for life. You may have contracted it as a child, but are only experiencing cold sore flare-ups now that you’re older. Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of the virus itself.
However, once you know what might be triggering your flare-ups, you can take some of the preventative measures. They can help to reduce how often you experience an outbreak. Even if you continue to get cold sores, many of these solutions will cause them to be less intense.
Any ailment or condition can seem much worse as we get older. Our bodies don’t fight back against things the way they used to. So, being able to avoid cold sores as much as possible is important. Take the precautionary steps listed in this article for a better chance of reducing your flare-ups. Additionally, find a treatment option that works for you. One of the biggest issues with cold sores is the pain that goes with them. The right treatment can help to alleviate that pain.