As someone who has suffered from cold sores my entire life, I understand the reluctance to swim with a cold sore. They are painful and can make you self-conscious.
It is important to know if it is safe to swim with a cold sore, for both your wellbeing and that of others.
As a general rule, you can swim with a cold sore, as strong pool chemicals such as chlorine will kill the cold sore virus. This means that you cannot transmit or pick up the virus from the pool water. No cold sore infection has been confirmed to have happened in chlorinated pool water.
Although we are safe from the cold sore virus in the water, it is important to understand what this virus is and how it is transmitted.
In this article I am going to cover:
- What is a cold sore?
- How are cold sores transmitted?
- Can I get or transmit a cold sore in the pool?
- What is cold sore “self infection”?
- Should I swim with a cold sore?
- What is Lysine?
What Is A Cold Sore?
A cold sore is a painful blister that appears on the face. They typically form in the lip region, but can appear on any region of the face and are caused by the “herpes simplex virus”. [source]
I have suffered from cold sores for my entire life. One of my earliest childhood memories involves having a cold sore.
I was 3 years old and my neighbour gave me a piece of fresh orange as a treat. I bit into the orange and the acidic juice started to sting my cold sore like crazy. I screamed and screamed. She had no clue what was wrong with me and I was so frantic with the pain, I just kept screaming!
Cold sores are exceptionally common, with more than 50% of the USA population being infected with the virus, although many never develop cold sores. [source]
How Are Cold Sores Transmitted?
Cold sores are transmitted by direct contact, for example by kissing or touching.
So although there is little risk of transmitting a cold sore in the pool water, if you have a cold sore while swimming, do not share towels or drinks to reduce any risk of cross-contamination. [source]
Can I Get Or Transmit A Cold Sore In The Pool?
Chlorinated pool water instantly kills the cold sore virus, so there is little concern about transmitting or getting the cold sore virus while swimming.
To date, there are no confirmed cases of the cold sore virus being transmitted via pool water.
What Is Cold Sore “Self Infection”?
A cold sore virus can be transmitted from one part of the body to the other. [source]
Many people who suffer regularly from cold sores are not aware that it is possible to transmit the cold sore virus on your mouth to other parts of your body, for example, the eyes.
I have suffered from cold sores my entire life, but no one ever warned me that this “self infection” is possible. In fact, I had never heard about it until it happened to me.
A few years ago, I got the cold sore virus in my eye. It happened when I put moisturiser on my lips which had an active cold sore and then rubbed my eye.
In doing so, I moved the virus from my mouth to my eyes. This is so easily done and happened in an instant.
I saw a range of eye specialists and it took at least 10 weeks for eye doctors to work out that I had the cold sore virus in my eye.
Of course, by the time I got to see the Senior Eye Consultant, the cold sore on my lip had healed, so the source of the primary cold sore infection was nowhere to be seen, making this a real mystery for him.
Finally, after much examination, the Senior Optometrist in the hospital diagnosed the virus in my eye. It took them so long to diagnose it, there was nothing they could do, as it had mostly healed itself by that point.
Although I had a very unpleasant 10 weeks of blurred vision in the infected eye, I consider myself very lucky.
In the end, I was left with scleral thinning in my eye, Bowman’s scarring, two tiny scars from the lesions on my nose and a dark freckle on my eyeball. I was told that if the virus had worsened, I could have been left with permanent “spots” in my vision.
I am a Swimmer, not a Doctor, but I want to share this personal experience as accidentally getting the virus in your eye can be very serious and it can happen without thinking.
Today, when I have a cold sore, I only apply lip balm or lip treatment at a sink so I can instantly wash my hands to remove any risk of moving the active virus to other parts of my face.
Should I Swim With A Cold Sore?
Although you can swim with a cold sore as the chlorinated pool water makes it safe to do so, the real question is, “should you swim with a cold sore?”
Personally, I do not swim with a cold sore.
Although I know the water is safe and the risk to others is minimal, I believe it is important to look after your own health.
Many well-documented triggers bring on cold sores, such as exposure to sunlight, stress, fatigue or immune system changes. [source]
When I get a cold sore, it typically means my body and immune system are run down.
Cold sores cause me to pause and assess how healthy I am. If I am feeling rundown, or my immune system feels under attack, I always take a break from the pool and do not swim until my cold sore is healed and health feels fully restored.
What Is Lysine?
There are some fantastic medical resources online that give trustworthy advice on how to treat a cold sore, such as the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK.
From all my years of suffering from cold sores, one of the best pieces of advice I received was to take Lysine to help heal my cold sore faster.
Although Lysine does not stop me from getting cold sores, it speeds up the healing process.
On a personal note, Lysine pills tend to be on the larger side. Personally I don’t like large pills but unfortunately I have yet to find a “small pill” option.
As with all treatments and supplements, seek advice from trusted medical resources such as the NHS or your Doctor before taking.
If you are worried about messing up your usual swim routine, take a look at my article Should I Swim Every Day?