The Cold Sore Travel Trigger

Written by Chloe Harwood

We all know that to enjoy an illness-free holiday you should avoid the tap water in certain travel hotspots, but you might not be aware that some minor health problems, such as cold sores, actually begin before you’ve even touched down at your holiday destination.

Yes, the stress of getting away from it all can leave you susceptible to the horrible onslaught of the cold sore virus, especially if you’re travelling by air.

And here are four ways a cold sore may be triggered, even while you fly!

Lowered immune system

If you’re really tired and stressed before you leave for your holiday, and let’s face it, many of us find that we are busiest at work in the days leading up to annual leave, then your immune system will already be working overtime. Plus, if you are fighting off any minor ailment such as a cold or cough or even healing a small wound, the herpes simplex virus – the virus responsible for causing cold sore outbreaks – will find it easier to wreak havoc on your face.

Being in the cramped conditions of an aircraft, where hundreds of people breathe recycled air for hours on end and all use the same toilet facilities, can mean a rapid spread of infection. Once your body starts to try to fight off the germs and bugs you came into contact with on the plane, the cold sore virus has the perfect opportunity to rear its ugly head unchecked – usually, just in time for you to hit the beach.

Jet lag

Long-haul travel can cause all sorts of sleep deprivation problems, but so too can the holiday lifestyle of burning the midnight oil (or maybe even the 3am oil). Tiredness is a well-known cold sore trigger for many sufferers and if you’re one of those people who likes to go wild, and generally without sleep, while on holiday, you could be setting up the perfect bodily environment for an outbreak.

Even if you’re slightly more sensible and always try to achieve six to eight hours sleep per night, the effects of jet lag can mean your body becomes run down – and the cold sore virus can therefore do its worst.


Lots of people realise that the harmful effects of UV light can be the precursor to a cold sore. However, merely applying sun block to your lips is not enough to prevent sunlight being a trigger.

If you get sunburned, anywhere on your body, your immune system will go all out to begin healing the damaged skin. Meanwhile, the herpes simplex virus will see its opportunity and launch an attack on your face – hence strong sunlight being known as a cause of cold sores.

The trick is to ensure you are properly protected from harmful UV rays and, most importantly, that you don’t get burnt. This way, you will not only protect yourself from immediate problems such as a cold sore, and the more long-term and serious effects of the sun such as skin cancer, but you won’t look like a big red blotch in your holiday photos with a cold sore to boot.

Change of diet

Many sufferers know that what they eat can greatly affect the probability of feeling that telltale tingle associated with a new cold sore. So, it’s always wise to eat the types of food that help to keep the immune system stay fighting fit and keep those pesky amino acids in check.

However, when we go on holiday we sometimes have a tendency to indulge ourselves with the things we love rather than the things we know are good for us. And in certain circumstances, perhaps in those far flung places, we might not be able to find the types of fruit and veg etc which will keep the irksome cold sore virus at bay.

If necessary, try good quality supplements to boost your levels of Vitamin B, C, & E and the mineral zinc, and perhaps take a lysine supplement as well to increase the amount of the cold sore virus fighting amino acid in your body.

Avoid foods high in arginine (another amino acid), for example beer, chocolate, cola and peanuts and maybe try some Echinacea; either in the form of a supplement or a delicious tea (yes, it’s an acquired taste, but many people swear by its immune boosting properties).

And finally

If the worst comes to the worst and you know you are getting a cold sore – yes the dreaded tingle starts – use a quality cold sore remedy as soon as possible. Keep a tube in your hand luggage so that if you feel it on the plane, you will be able to apply it immediately.

Apply the cold sore treatment regularly and follow all the normal rules about how to treat a cold sore – don’t touch or pick the affected area and be careful when using towels, facecloths and your toothbrush so that you don’t spread the infection.

About the author

Chloe Harwood