Why do I keep getting cold sores?

Cold sores can be tiny and painful, and for some, they keep appearing over and over again.

Dr. Dick Zoutman, chief of staff at Scarborough Health Network in Toronto, says the virus that causes cold sores is known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (or HSV-1).

“Many people are infected with this virus but most have no symptoms at all. We spread the cold sore form of this disease through saliva and close personal contact to the saliva of others,” the infectious disease specialist explained.

“The herpes simplex virus attaches itself to nerve endings in the skin around the lips and mouth and then lives in those nerves. In fact, the virus then remains dormant in the nerves for the remainder of the infected person’s life.”

He says the virus periodically reactivates and can cause painful blisters on the lips that last about a week.

And because it sticks around in the nerve cells, cold sores can appear during times of stress, exposure to excessive sunlight or during a fever.

“Some people have only one episode of cold sores, but most people will have repeated attacks once or twice a year. Some very unlucky people might have attacks every month.”

The virus is very common

The appearance of a cold sore can feel slightly embarrassing, especially in social gatherings or work, but Zoutman says the infection is very common.

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