Causes of Herpes Outbreaks – What Are The Triggers?

Despite decades of research into the topic, the causes of herpes outbreaks remain poorly understood. Commonly referred to as “triggers”, the stimuli responsible for initiating the process of viral shedding in infected individuals is believed to include everything from direct sunlight to certain types of foods. Unfortunately, while theories abound, little in the way of scientific proof is available.

This article takes a look at some of the most widely-accepted theories surrounding triggers for herpes outbreaks. While reviewing the information presented, it is important to remember that specific triggers for each person are probably different. Determining which of these, if any, are the causes of your herpes outbreaks is a learning process that can sometimes take years.

The most-commonly reported triggers for herpes outbreaks include:

Exposure to Ultra-Violet Light

Irritation of the skin caused by ultra-violet light is believed to trigger viral shedding in many herpes patients. This type of exposure results most often from direct sunlight, but is also frequently experienced by people who use tanning salons.

To prevent triggering an outbreak from UV light, it is recommended that the susceptible individual use sunscreen lotion, hats, etc. whenever out in the sun, and avoid the use of artificial UV rays for tanning.

Stress and Fatigue

The correlation between stress, insufficient sleep, and herpes outbreaks is one of the stronger ones established by researchers. Because both stress and fatigue reduce the effectiveness of the body’s ability to defend itself against illness, prolonged periods of either can allow the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus to overwhelm the immune system.

The most-prescribed technique for reducing stress and fatigue is regular exercise and a balanced diet. As is the case with many issues related to herpes, improving one’s overall health is one of the greatest factors in successfully managing the disease.

Friction on the Infected Area

More often associated with HSV-2 than HSV-1, friction against the infected area (e.g., the groin or genitals) is considered to be one of the leading causes of herpes outbreaks. Similar to direct sunlight, physical irritation of the skin by external factors such as tight clothing and sexual intercourse seems to trigger viral shedding in many individuals.

Avoiding this particular trigger involves wearing comfortable, loose-fitting undergarments, and using ample, water-based sexual lubricants during intercourse. Both of these practices will reduce chafing of the skin, and help to avert outbreaks.

Exposure to Cold and Wind

Many of those infected with HSV-1 (oral herpes) report that exposure to low temperatures and wind often triggers outbreaks of cold sores. While there no direct medical correlation has been established to explain this phenomenon, it does stand to reason that these factors would irritate the skin and potential reduce the tissue’s ability to combat the latent virus.

Wearing protective clothing and using some sort of lip balm are recommended methods of dealing with these particular causes of herpes outbreaks.


The final suspected trigger of herpes outbreaks is related to one’s diet. Some studies have determined a link exists between large amounts of L-arginine (frequently found in chocolate, nuts, gelatin, and flour) and the frequency with which outbreaks recur in many individuals. The excessive consumption of alcohol is also believed to be a culprit due to its weakening of the immune system.

In addition to avoiding the aforementioned foods loaded with L-arginine, it is believed by many that eating a larger proportion of foods containing Lysine helps suppress outbreaks. Foods that contain high amounts of Lysine include beef, dairy products, fish, eggs, and potatoes.

Summarizing the Causes of Herpes Outbreaks

Determining the causes of herpes outbreaks in your own case is, unfortunately, an inexact science. While the stimuli discussed in this article have been reported as causes of outbreaks for a great many individuals, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will act as triggers for you. By following some of the guidelines discussed above, however, it is likely that you can somewhat reduce the frequency with which you experience future herpes outbreaks.