Cold sore again? Could be your genes

By Shayna Brouker • Published: February 9th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s happening again: First the sensitive skin around your mouth swells up like an angry zit. The affected area morphs into a blister then breaks, turning into a crusty sore. You’re left to deal with an embarrassing, ugly blemish glaring front and center on your face for a week or longer.

There’s nothing nice about cold sores, also called fever blisters, and some people tend to suffer from these unsightly ailments more often than others. ’Tis the seasons for cold sores, which are spread through kissing, sharing food, utensils or toothbrushes, and any other exchange of bodily fluids. Stress, sun and wind exposure can induce a breakout, too.

But your genes could be partially to blame for cold sores, which are actually the herpes simplex 1 virus, also known as HSV-1. A new study published in the Journal of Infectious Disease found that a certain gene is responsible for 21 percent of cold sore outbreaks. Researchers call the gene the cold sore susceptibility gene one. If they can narrow down exactly how it makes some people develop cold sores more frequently, they could test new treatments. It could also explain why 50 to 100 percent of people have the virus, but only a third suffer from regular breakouts.

If you are one of the unlucky few who get frequent cold sores, there are a few things you can do to lessen the likelihood of breakouts. Zap potential infections by spreading zinc oxide on the line between your lips and skin before going out in the sun. This danger zone is called the vermilion border and is particularly sensitive. Also, know when you’re susceptible: Stress, wind and menstruation also trigger outbreaks. As soon as you sense a sore coming on, apply antiviral cream to reduce heal time. A little prevention can soothe sores until a better remedy is revealed.