Are Cold Sores Common After Surgery?

  • Medically reviewed by Emina Ribic (MD) on October 25, 2018. Written by Linda White (MD).

Fever blisters can occur following surgery. Post-operative cold sores can be aggressive and last longer in some cases.

The surgery can trigger the herpes simplex virus due to the related immune health implications. When your body attempts to recover from surgery, it has less capacity to fight off other health-related issues.

Although the severity of the surgery is a deciding factor, any medical procedure can potentially be problematic. This is especially true if your health is in a poor state before your operation.

In this guide, you’ll learn about why you’re more likely to experience an HSV-1 outbreak and how to boost your immune health. We’ll also recommend a way to treat cold sores at home and heal in as little as 72 hours.

Can Oral Surgery Cause the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1)?

Oral surgery, whether dental treatment or otherwise, can make you more vulnerable to HSV-1.[1] This is due in part to the irritation caused by surgery, in addition to how your body responds to recovery. If you’re tired and run down, you’re much more vulnerable to infection.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Oral surgery is harsh on the mouth. Whether the surgery is minor or serious, the mouth is highly sensitive. Your teeth, gums, tongue, and lips can quickly become irritated. This is not limited to cracking, tearing, pulling, and stretching. These factors make you more vulnerable. While the hazards are numerous, just the act of your mouth being forced open or prodded by a surgical instrument can be a problem. If your oral surgery takes up to an hour, perhaps longer, dry lips and cracking near the mouth are much more likely. This provides an easy way for the herpes simplex virus to enter your body, or become activated. HSV-1 is stored in your body for life and there’s no permanent cure available (yet).
  2. Recovery from HSV-1 will be slower. It takes time to recover from a surgical procedure. Even in the most minor of operations, your body has to work hard to heal the affected area. When your immune system is busy aiding in recovery from your operation, HSV-1 can take longer to go away on its own. You may find that recovery takes longer than the ‘normal’ 2 weeks, but this shouldn’t be considered to be abnormal.

To summarize:

  • The irritation caused during oral surgery can trigger a cold sore outbreak. Cracking and dryness of the lips are common, potentially providing a way for the virus to enter your body. This is more likely if surgical and dental tools haven’t been properly sterilized.
  • Whenever your body is forced to devote time to healing, HSV-1 can become active. Although oral surgery will not stop your immune system, attention will be diverted elsewhere. Because cold sores are caused by a virus, your body might not be as prepared. Much depends on how well you were feeling prior to the operation and if the outcome was successful.
  • If you get guests, be careful about exchanging kisses and shaking hands. This can easily spread the herpes virus to you (or others).

Which Types of Surgery Can Trigger Cold Sores?

Although some surgical procedures are more invasive than others, any form of surgery has the potential to trigger a cold sore. When the body is compromised, even for your own good, your immune system pays the price. This is important to understand if you find that you have a fever blister just days after your procedure.

Any surgery that involves the face is problematic. Because HSV-1 is primarily transferred to the lips or mouth, although other cold sore complications can occur, surgical proximity can play a role. The closer procedure is (or was) to your face the higher the risk of an outbreak. This is one of the reasons why dental surgery can be problematic for HSV-1 carriers.[2]

Noted below are just a few types of medical procedures that can either irritate the mouth or tax the body.

  • Plastic surgery (especially on the face)
  • Cataract removal[3]
  • Laser procedures near to the mouth
  • Any form of ear, nose, or throat procedure
  • Neck surgery (skin procedure or more invasive)

Will My Cold Sore Be Worse After Major Surgery?

If you have HSV-1 in your system, a major surgery could lead to an outbreak. Major surgery depletes your immune system and is left fighting many battles with more ailments that it can currently handle.

From heart surgery, a hysterectomy, chemotherapy, colon surgery, back surgery, dental work, etc., operations will tax the body. If you are bedridden for days or even weeks, HSV-1 can take hold. This is especially true if your surgery is related to a severe medical issue, such as cancer-related chemotherapy, for example.

Due to your immune system being weakened, blister outbreaks could be worse than before.[4] Your cold sores could also take more time to heal. You also need to be careful not to spread the herpes simplex virus to other areas through touch.

To recap...

  • Surgical procedures can lead to cold sores and make existing sores worse. Symptoms can be more severe and the healing time can be lengthier. This is just because your body is finding it harder to rid your body of the negative effects of the virus.
  • If your surgery is coupled with an existing medical issue, blisters can form much easier. If you are having major surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, for example, you have both factors working against you.

How Do You Treat Cold Sores After Surgery?

While standard OTC medications can treat your cold sores, your primary goal is to help your body to recover. If a surgical procedure has triggered your blisters, you must recover and heal. A quality supplement, such as Herp Rescue Immune Support Formula can be helpful.

Once your body has returned to a healthy state, you can treat your blisters directly. When your body is healthy enough to fight your outbreak, an OTC med will be more effective.

While people dismiss cold sores as minor, most outbreaks clear up in 2 weeks due to your immune health. Outbreaks are only a “breeze” because you’re in good general health. When your health is compromised, cold sores can become a chronic problem.

surgery and fever blisters

To summarize:

  • The best way to treat your cold sores after surgery is to recover to a healthy state. Your immediate goal should be to return to full strength and restore proper immune health. Once that goal is reached then you can medicate your sores with an OTC drug.
  • You can suffer depleted immune health and still function properly. However, it is the little things that you do not notice that can lead to complications, infections, and outbreaks. Even the most inconsequential of surgical procedures can impact your body.

Should I Postpone Surgery If I Have a Cold Sores?

Unless you’re having oral surgery or a complicated medical procedure, active cold sores are rarely a reason to postpone surgery. The only core concern would be the presence of fever. If your body temperature becomes high, then postponement becomes a real possibility.

If you are worried about your surgery, contact your doctor. At that time he or she will inform you if postponing your procedure is warranted. However, you should likely expect your surgery to proceed.

  • Pro Tip: You know if you get cold sores regularly and the date of your surgery, so be prepared. An FDA-approved treatment, such as HERP-B-GONE and Abreva, can reduce the healing time to as little as 72 hours. You may be able to heal significantly faster.

To recap:

  • The only reason to postpone surgery is a fever. Aggressive cold sore outbreaks, particularly during the primary infection (which is usually more severe), can lead to a sharp increase in body temperature.
  • If your cold sore outbreak occurs days before your operation, use a proven treatment as soon as you experience a tingling sensation on the lips (prodromal). Cold sores can heal faster when you use a proven prescription or over-the-counter treatment.

Can surgery cause cold sores?

Summary

Surgery can be a cold sore trigger. While more complicated than other causes, surgery (especially oral surgery) has the potential to spread the virus and compromise your body’s ability to defend itself. You’ll likely recover more slowly if you experience an outbreak after your operation.

Learning how to cope with fever blisters after surgery is essential. Although faster cold sore healing is the goal, your body’ recovery should always be the priority. Get plenty of rest, avoid stress, eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of water.

References

  1. El Hayderi L, Raty L, Failla V, Caucanas M, Paurobally D, Nikkels A. Severe herpes simplex virus type-I infections after dental procedures. Med Oral Patol Oral y Cir Bucal. 2011; e15–e18. doi: 10.4317/medoral.16.e15
  2. El Hayderi L., Delvenne P., Rompen E., Senterre J. M., Nikkels A. F. Herpes simplex virus reactivation and dental procedures. Clinical Oral Investigations. 2013;17(8):1961–1964. doi: 10.1007/s00784-013-0986-3.
  3. Sykakis E, Karim R, Parmar DN. Management of patients with herpes simplex virus eye disease having cataract surgery in the United Kingdom. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2013;39:1254–9.
  4. Gaudin RA, Remenschneider AK, Phillips K, Knipfer C, Smeets R, Heiland M, Hadlock TA. Facial palsy after dental procedures – Is viral reactivation responsible? J Craniomaxillofac Surg. 2017 Jan;45(1):71-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jcms.2016.11.002.

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