There are many claims that cold sores are more contagious when a person is exercising or that cold sore outbreaks can be triggered by exercise.
These claims underscore the common misunderstandings that underline the perceived relationship between cold sores and the human body, misconceptions that this post aims to lay asunder.
What Are Cold Sores?
Cold sores, sometimes called fever blisters, are a cluster of blisters that appear at about the same spot on or near the lips and typically last between seven and 10 days (about one and a half weeks).
These sores first have a clear appearance and then, with time, become cloudy.
Cold sores result from a viral infection called herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), which affects over 67% of adults and 50% of kindergarten-age children, even though many have not exhibited symptoms.
The presentation of the sores and their contagion abilities contribute significantly to the stigma of herpes.
When cold sores are present on an individual, they’re encouraged not to share utensils, towels, or drinking glasses when they have lesions or feel like one is coming along.
Before looking at the relationship between cold sores and exercise, it’s worth noting that there are two variations of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1, also called oral herpes, and HSV-2, widely known as genital herpes.
HSV-1 is responsible for oral sores and is more common than HSV-2. While HSV-2 is primarily sexually spread, it can also rise from HSV-1 through oral sexual contact with a person infected with HSV-1.
Cold Sores And Exercise
The connection between cold sores and high-intensity exercise is a widely documented one.
Research published in the United States (U.S.) medical publication National Library of Medicine concluded that high-intensity exercises could either be beneficial or harmful to anti-viral immunity
But depending on the intensity of the exercise and the interval between when the infection happened and when the exercise took place.
The research showed that high-intensity exercises 17 hours after infection hampered the clearance of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) while that conducted 8 hours after infection enhanced the clearance of the virus.
Runner’s World magazine, in response to a reader query, echoed the research by the U.S. medical publication.
The Runner’s World magazine postulated that the long-distance runner who asked about the connection between their intense running and cold sores suffered from cold sores due to the stress they put the body under when running long distances.
These two significant reports show that while there’s a relationship between exercise and the herpes simplex virus, which is responsible for cold sores, the relationship isn’t causative.
In many people, herpes simplex alternates between being active and inactive depending on the triggers.
In these cases, a trigger like an injury, exposure to the sun, an injury to the affected area, and fatigue can activate the virus.
Also, people with weak immune systems are susceptible to complications from cold sores. In the latter category of people, exercising can cause an undue strain on their vulnerable bodies that may then trigger cold sores.
Exercising, nevertheless, has health benefits that’d be unwise to ignore. These benefits include cold sores and other symptoms of the herpes simplex virus. Regardless of these benefits, exercise cannot cure cold sores.
Some of the ways exercise may help include:
- Physical activity may help to push bacteria out of the lungs and the airway, which helps in clearing the bacteria and other infections out of the system.
- One of the triggers of cold sores is stress. Moderate-intensity exercise has been seen to slow the release of stress hormones while at the same time positively influencing mood and behavior. Stress has been proven to impact the proper functioning of the immune system, making you susceptible to infections and diseases. Exercise thus helps suppress stress, which triggers cold sores and the herpes simplex virus.
- Exercise raises body temperature. It’s widely believed that elevated temperatures work the same way a fever does, making the internal environment unfeasible for bacteria and disease-causing organisms, leaving your body better positioned to fight infections like cold sores.
- Moderate-intensity exercise stimulates an increase in the circulation of immune cells, enabling your body to stay prepared for infections. Aerobic exercises of moderate to vigorous intensity for an average of 30-45 minutes have been proven especially effective in enabling the circulation of the defensive cells in the immune system.
- Exercise not only helps you sleep better but fall asleep faster as well. Moderate aerobics increases the amount of slow-wave sleep, which is the deep sleep that gives your brain a chance to rejuvenate. Good sleep not only reduces stress levels yet also lowers your risk of health problems.
A cold sore isn’t an excuse for you not to engage in physical activities. If you have a cold sore, you can still engage in physical exercise, but make sure that you:
- Wipe with an anti-bacterial wipe to disinfect any exercise equipment you’ve handled.
- Don’t share water bottles, lip balm, a towel, or any clothing item with anyone.
- Take extra precautions like washing your hands and keeping a social distance from others in the exercise zone to ensure you do not spread.
- Work out at home or away from other people.
- Constantly hydrate yourself. Cold sores can make drinking fluids painful, so the chances of becoming dehydrated when suffering from cold sores are high.
- Avoid touching your lips, nose, and eyes during exercise sessions to avoid spreading the infection to other parts of your face.
- If high temperatures trigger cold sores in you, use sunscreen when exercising, where you’ll likely gain exposure from the sun.
Cold sores clear on their own in less than two weeks after infection. Yet when exercising, make sure that you take proper precautions not to spread it to others.
And participate in appropriate-level exercises to ensure you do not stress your body to the point of cold sores re-emerging. The intensity of your workout will depend on the other symptoms of cold sores.
If your symptoms are severe, intense exercise may strain the body and delay healing.
Make sure the exercise regimen you choose when suffering from cold sores is proportional to your body’s strain.