Should I Exercise When I Have a Cold Sore?

A woman covers her mouth with her hand, hiding a blister.
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Cold sores -- or fever blisters -- are fluid-filled lesions found on the mouth, nose, chin and fingers that are caused as the result of the herpes simplex type one infection. These lesions are contagious and generally take two to three weeks to heal. During this time, you can feel free to engage in your normal activities -- including exercise -- with minimal modifications.

Exercise

Engaging in exercise will not cause cold sores. However, cold sores can be transferred from one person to another within a gym setting. Cold sores are most frequently transferred from person to person by direct contact -- including kissing. The virus that causes cold sores can be transferred by sharing a towel, a bottle of water or rubbing a lesion up against a piece of exercise equipment. When exercising with a cold sore or exercising near an individual with a cold sore, take extra precautions. Never share your water bottle or towel. Always wipe down equipment with an antibacterial wipe -- most gyms provide them -- prior to using. If you have a cold sore on your fingers, it may be best to work out at home until your lesions have healed. This will help you to avoid infection as well as prevent spreading cold sores to other individuals.

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Symptoms

Cold sores most frequently present themselves as small, fluid-filled blisters that are painful. A majority of cold sores occur on the corners of your mouth. You may also notice pain and tingling around the site of your cold sore of the first few days.

Treatment

Without treatment, cold sores clear up on their own within two weeks. If you experience severe pain, topical treatments can help to alleviate your pain -- including lidocaine, which is a topical numbing agent. Oral medications can also help to decrease pain and the duration of a cold sore, but these medications should be started shortly after you notice a cold sore forming. If you experience frequent cold sores, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication to help prevent cold sores.

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Warnings

With a cold sore, avoid rubbing your eyes. The herpes infection can cause scarring of your corneas which can lead to blindness. According to MayoClinic, the herpes virus is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. If you are experiencing a cold sore as the result of an underlying health condition -- including AIDS or the HIV virus -- discontinue exercise immediately and contact your physician. Avoid taking pain medications for your cold sore. This can lead to a condition called Reye's Syndrome in individuals with existing health conditions. Reye's Syndrome is a potentially fatal disease linked to aspirin medications in individuals with pre-existing viral infections.

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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