Constantly recurring cold sores: how come?


Recurring cold sores are usually harmless, but extremely annoying. Learn how relapses occur and what helps prevent them.

Highlights at a glance


Lip herpes – technically known as herpes labialis – is caused by infection with the so-called herpes simplex viruses. Its outbreak is usually reported as tingling, itching, and sometimes pain in the lip. The affected area then becomes thick and the typical small, swollen blisters form.

In otherwise healthy people, these cold sores usually heal on their own after about a week or two, leaving no scars. However, anyone who has had herpes can always get it again: up to 40 percent of the population will experience recurrences. Even recurrent herpes causes only one infection.

Constant cold sores: this is what it is

The fact that infection with herpes simplex viruses is enough to cause cold sores again is due to a special feature of these pathogens: the viruses that have penetrated the body can remain there for life and repeatedly cause symptoms.

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If herpes simplex viruses recur (or recur) after infection, specialists speak of herpes simplex recidivists. If the same area is affected as in the previous outbreak, the technical term is herpes simplex recidivans in loco. Recurrent herpes is the most common form of recurrent herpes.

die infection with herpes simplex viruses, it usually occurs through the oral area. Viruses penetrate through small lesions of the skin or mucosal cells and start multiplying there. It usually happens without any symptoms – cold sores usually don’t show up until months or years later.

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The immune system reacts to the initial infection and produces antibodies against the herpes virus. However, this does not eliminate the infection. Instead, the viruses enter the nerves of the facial area, where they can remain dormant for long periods of time, sometimes forever. Cold sores only develop when reactivated.

Such reactivations occur frequently – but by no means with every carrier of the herpes virus. Why some infected people get cold sores again, while others rarely or never get it, is not fully understood.

How often and at what time intervals herpes virus reactivation also varies greatly: for some patients it happens only a few times in a lifetime, for others it happens practically all the time. It often recurs from one to six times a year.

Did you already know?

Also the causative agent chicken pox, the so-called varicella zoster virus, is one of the herpes viruses and remains in the body for life after the first infection. Its reactivation usually manifests itself as shingles noticeable.

Constantly recurring cold sores: these are provocateurs

Whether it’s a rare cold sore or a recurring cold sore, dormant herpes viruses are reactivated before each new outbreak of infection. The reactivated viruses travel along the nerves back to the skin, where they multiply rapidly and cause new cold sores.

Often, herpes viruses seem to reactivate for no particular reason. However, it is also known that various external stimuli can cause cold sores. This includes in particular:

  • UV radiation (like solar radiation)
  • infections with fever
  • injuries
  • physical exertion
  • psychological stress
  • mechanical irritation of the lips (e.g. intense kissing)
  • hormonal fluctuations (eg due to menstruation or pregnancy)
  • weakened immune system (eg chemotherapy)
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Near Fever Sunlight is considered the most important activation factor. This is why recurrent cold sores occur, for example, in people who ski a lot or hike in the mountains: The reason for this is the particularly intense UV exposure in the snow and at high altitudes. In the Alpine region, herpes in Lipe is also known as glacier fire.

Repeated cold sores: This helps

Although cold sores are annoying, they usually heal on their own. Even recurrent cold sores usually go away without treatment. Topical agents (such as those with the antiviral agent acyclovir) may promote healing or at least provide some relief from acute symptoms.

To reduce the spread of persistent cold sores, you can…

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