Do Certain Foods Trigger Cold Sore Outbreaks?

In this article, we'll define what cold sores are, what causes them, and how they spread. Next, we'll highlight foods to avoid cold sores and review those effective in preventing a cold sore outbreak.

Have you considered clinical trials for Cold sores?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Cold sores, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are painful blisters that typically appear on the skin around the lips. They can show up singly or in clusters.

What are the common causes?

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) strains are responsible for causing cold sores. Cold sores are commonly caused by HSV-1. Typically, HSV-2 is responsible for genital herpes. However, both viruses can cause both diseases. Through close contact, such as kissing or oral sex, either type may spread to the face or genitals.¹

How do people get cold sores

How does it spread?

Cold sores are contagious and can be passed from person to person through kissing or by sharing personal items like utensils. Additionally, infected fluids and saliva can cause the infection to spread to other parts of the body. Furthermore, HSV is thought to spread via droplets, but airborne spread has also been postulated.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that cold sores often heal in about two weeks, but they should be treated as infectious until they completely disappear.²

How does it present?

Symptoms of an impending cold sore include itching, tingling, or burning around the mouth. The typical blister forms within a day and may break open, discharge fluid, and then crust over and heal. The duration of a cold sore might range from a few days to a week or two. Although it may cause discomfort for some, it's merely a nuisance for most people. 

Foods to avoid with cold sores

Certain foods can irritate existing cold sores or prevent healing and should therefore be avoided:

Saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet means better immunity and less risk for cold sores, as immunosuppression is a known risk factor for cold sores.. 

Acidic foods

Acidic foods can irritate a cold sore.. Citrus, fruit juices, tomatoes, soda, wine, pickles, and salad dressings made with vinegar are just some of the items you should avoid. 

Hot and spicy foods

Hot and spicy foods can also irritate cold sores.

Home remedies for cold sores

The American Dental Association offers several home remedies for cold sores, including the following:

  • When you first notice a tingling sensation, it's a sign that a cold sore is on its way. Use an over-the-counter or prescription antiviral ointment to shorten the duration of the outbreak — although the use of topical therapy for cold sores is not recommended. To treat recurrent herpes simplex labialis, oral therapy is preferred over topical antiviral creams.

  • When a cold sore appears, use an over-the-counter ointment or gel to alleviate the pain.

  • You can soothe a cold sore by sucking on ice cubes or wrapping them in a clean, soft cloth and holding them on the sore.

  • To avoid painful, dry, cracked skin, apply petroleum jelly gently to the cold sore and the region around it.


Take these measures to protect yourself from contracting herpes simplex virus type 1 when close to someone who has a cold sore:

  • If someone has a cold sore, avoid kissing them or having any other form of oral or personal contact.

  • Avoid sharing razors, towels, dishes, lipstick, or lip balm.

  • Before touching your eyes, lips, or genitals, wash your hands.

The lowdown

Once you get a cold sore, there's little you can do to stop the outbreak.It’s best to avoid foods that are hot and spicy or acidic. Lean proteins, vegetable juices, and warm soups might satisfy your hunger without irritating the sore as you wait for the outbreak to pass.

People also ask

Can certain foods cause cold sores?

No. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and passed on from person to person. Although certain foods can’t cause cold sores, they can aggravate them.

What foods help cold sores go away?

Eating a well balanced and healthy diet is the key to ensure the health of your body and immune system in fighting the HSV viruses.

What foods can trigger cold sores?

Foods that are hot and spicy or acidic can irritate cold sores and prevent healing.

Have you considered clinical trials for Cold sores?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Cold sores, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any Cold sores clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Cold sores?
Have you been diagnosed with Cold sores?