Oral herpes, also commonly known as cold sores, fever blisters or herpes labialis, is an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It causes painful, fluid-filled, tiny blisters.
Oral herpes and genital herpes are very similar in appearance. However, they occur in different parts of the body. Oral herpes is an infection that causes painful blisters/sores in the mouth, inner cheeks, gums, roof of the mouth, tongue, and lips. This condition is sometimes accompanied by muscle pain and fever.
Herpes symptoms commonly show in or around the mouth. Sores may also occur at the back of the throat, causing the lymph nodes in the neck to swell. Mouth herpes is very common in children, as their parents or relatives can pass it on to them easily by a greeting or goodnight kiss. To get a better understanding of oral herpes, let us take a look at its causes.
✫ Only human beings are affected by the herpes simplex virus. However, this is applicable to any human being, in any season of the year.
✫ In the United states of America, most people contract this infection before the age of 20.
✫ There are two types of viruses, namely; herpes simple virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simple virus 2 (HSV-2). Majority of oral herpes is caused by HSV-1.
✫ According to statistics, around two hundred and fifty four million Americans (more than 50 percent of the population) have contracted the infection of oral herpes through oral contact.
✫ Sometimes, after the first infection, the virus becomes dormant in the nerve tissues of the face. Later, the virus reactivates and causes cold sores.
Causes of Mouth Herpes
✫ Herpes in the mouth is generally caused by herpes simplex virus 1.
✫ It is highly contagious and spreads from person to person by the means of saliva, mucus or skin contact.
✫ Even touching or sharing something that is infected with the herpes virus like towels, used razors, lip balm, lipsticks, etc., can cause mouth herpes.
✫ It can be contracted easily through physical contact with any person who is infected.
✫ Oral herpes can be contracted by oral sex too. However, this is a rare happening, as genital herpes is caused by HSV-2.
✫ Other causes can include; excess sunlight on the lips, menstruation, change in hormones, emotional stress, mouth injury, fatigue, dental procedures, etc.
✫ Any which way, in some cases, the triggers of oral herpes are unknown.
During stage 1, the virus comes in contact with the skin, enters through cracks or breaks, and reproduces. In this phase, symptoms like fever might occur. The incubation period for oral herpes is between 2 to 12 days. The symptoms last for about 3 weeks. The symptoms may be mild or serious, and occur within the first three weeks after contracting the infection. These symptoms include;
✫ A burning or tingling sensation around the mouth area,
✫ Itchy lips or skin around the mouth,
✫ Pain while swallowing food,
✫ Swelling in glands and fever,
✫ Muscle pain and fatigue,
✫ Sore throat,
✫ Blisters or rash around the lips, gums, throat or mouth,
✫ Swollen or bleeding gums.
These blisters may break open and leak a yellowish fluid. This fluid becomes crusty, as the blister heals and ultimately turns pink.
A physician can diagnose oral herpes by just looking at the infected area. A sample of the sore fluid may be sent for closer examination and confirmation of herpes, to the laboratory. Viral DNA test, Tzanck test or Viral culture test may be conducted for better diagnoses.
The episode of oral herpes may clear up by itself within 7 days or more, and not even occur again. However, once the herpes virus is contracted, there is no way you can get it out of your system. A few measures can help with the pain caused by this infection. They are as follows;
✫ Drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be prescribed for fever and muscle ache.
✫ Over-the-counter cold sore creams or liquids may help in clearing these sores faster.
✫ Drinking plenty of water will prevent dehydration.
✫ If the blisters or sores get very painful, the doctor might prescribe a mouth wash for oral hygiene.
✫ However, there is always a risk that these symptoms might resurface, especially in stressful situations.
Precautions and Prevention
✫ Avoid salty and acidic food.
✫ Eat food that is cooling and soft to chew.
✫ Use a lip balm to prevent your lips from sticking to each other.
✫ Do not indulge in kissing or oral sex, until the sores are healed completely.
✫ Also, do not kiss anyone with oral or genital herpes.
✫ Use sunscreen on your lips to protect them from the sun.
✫ Do not share lipsticks, lip balms, creams, straws, cutlery or even a water glass with an infected person.
✫ Although very rare, herpes can be transmitted to a newborn too. Hence, if you are an expecting mother, consult your physician regarding oral herpes.
Herpes in the mouth is difficult to cure permanently. However, taking proper precautionary measures can definitely minimize the risk of its surfacing again and again. Stress and emotionally exerting circumstances can aggravate the condition of herpes.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.