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Oral Herpes Symptoms

Oral herpes symptoms in men and women

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Oral herpes can be transmitted by kissing, sharing eating utensils or drinks, or during sex. Since oral herpes can be contracted from both Type 1 and Type 2 strains of the Herpes Simplex Virus, our doctors recommend getting tested for both of these HSV strains at the same time.

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Most common symptoms

  • No symptoms at all

Less common symptoms

  • Mild or severe itching of the mouth or lips
  • Sores or blisters on the lips or inside the mouth
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pains
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpit or groin

Least common symptoms

  • Sores or blisters on nose or fingers
  • Infections of the eyelid or eyeball

How can I tell if I have oral herpes?

Oral herpes does not always show symptoms. When it does, it shows up as cold sores or fever blisters in the mouth or on or around the lips. The only way to confirm if you have HSV-1 and/or HSV-2 is to get tested. People infected with the herpes virus may experience itching, burning and tingling around the mouth and lips just before developing cold sores or fever blisters. Other symptoms to watch for include sore throat, fever, swollen glands and pain when swallowing.

When do first outbreaks of oral herpes appear?

The first sign of oral herpes usually appears between 2 to 12 days after initial exposure. This first outbreak may cause mild to severe blisters in or around the mouth, on the tongue or lips and lasts about 7-10 days. Consequent outbreaks may cause painful, but less severe, blisters and sores and can last up to 14 days.

What does an oral herpes outbreak feel or look like?

Oral herpes outbreaks occur when several blisters come together to form a larger blister. Initial blisters are sometimes reddish and filled with clear yellowish fluid. These blisters may break and leak. When an outbreak occurs you might experience a tingling, burning or itching sensation around the mouth, lips and gums. Oral herpes blisters are painful sores that heal over time. As the blisters heal, they turn yellowish and crusty before finally turning into pink skin.

What causes or triggers a recurrence of oral herpes?

After the initial oral herpes infection, the herpes virus becomes dormant in the facial nerve tissues. The virus may reactivate at a later date and cause cold sores or fever blisters. Oral herpes cases suddenly and unexpectedly retrigger the virus causing new outbreaks. There is no cure for oral herpes, but there are antiviral treatments that help reduce outbreaks and the severity of the pain caused by cold sores.

Will I have oral herpes for the rest of my life?

Since there is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2, the oral herpes stays with you for life. Oral herpes can be treated with antiviral medications to help shorten outbreaks and lessen their symptoms. When someone contracts oral herpes, it stays dormant in the facial nerve tissues until it is triggered, causing an outbreak. Triggers or oral herpes may include fatigue, chemotherapy, steroids, menstruation, physical and/or emotional stress or trauma, and immunosuppression from diseases like HIV.

Is there a difference between canker sores in the mouth and oral herpes?

Yes, there is a difference between herpes’ cold sores and canker sores. Although the names sound similar to one another, a close examination will easily reveal their differences. While oral herpes and canker sores both affect the mouth, they are found in different areas.

Here are a few differences between oral herpes and canker sores:

  • Cold sores (herpes) form as multiple tiny blisters, while canker sores appear as reddened raised areas that ultimately develop into larger sores.
  • Cold sores tend to occur on the roof and gums of the mouth on on the lips, while canker sores appear on the insides of the lip, cheek and/or in back of the throat.
  • Cold sores begin as little bumps that may break apart and leave small sores, while canker sores begin as sores.
  • Cold sores are smaller than canker sores, and tend to heal more quickly.
  • Cold sores may recur in the same location, while canker sores very often occur in different location.
  • Cold sores show up on the lips and mouth, while canker sores show up in various places inside the mouth only.
  1. "Genital Herpes." The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Genital-Herpes?IsMobileSet=false
  2. "Herpes - Oral: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000606.htm
  3. "University Health Service." Cold and Canker Sores | University Health Service. https://uhs.umich.edu/coldcankersores
  4. "Oral Herpes." American Sexual Health Association. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/herpes/oral-herpes/

Medically Reviewed by on Jun 18, 2019

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