Mouth herpes, also known as cold sores or fever blisters are a common viral infection. The infection causes the development if blisters around the lips. These blisters contain fluid in it. It appears together in patches. When the blisters break, you can see the formation of crust over the resulting cold sore. In normal cases, the sores heal within two or four weeks without using any medication. The cold sores can heal without leaving a visible scar. While it is commonly known as a cold sore, it is not linked to cold or fever. Therefore, you never develop the sores as a result of fever. It develops as a result of infection due to herpes simplex virus.
Cold sores spread due to intimate contact with an infected person or sharing their items. So, the infection is contagious even with no visible symptoms present. HSV-1 triggers the problem, which is closely linked to HSV- (the virus causing genital herpes). But, both the virus can affect the mouth or genitals. There is no permanent cure to eradicate the virus from your body after the initial attack. Since it lies dormant in your body, the chances of the blisters returning are high. But, you can use antiviral medications and some home remedies to reduce the duration and severity of the problem. Interested in knowing more? Read ahead.
Symptoms Of Mouth Herpes
Mouth herpes can trigger symptoms around your mouth. Cold sores can pass through different stages. When you suffer from the infection for the first time, your symptoms are usually worse. In most of the cases, the condition causes flu-like symptoms. The initial symptoms can trigger distress. So, you can see the following stages of viral infection:
During the primary stage, the virus attacks your skin or mucous membrane. It starts to reproduce and cause the development of other symptoms. In normal cases, you can see the following signs:
Tingling And Itching
People suffering from the infection can experience an itching or burning sensation around their lips. They can feel a burning sensation around the mouth area. These signs commonly appear a day before the sores erupt on the skin. The next day, you can see small, hard, and painful blisters appearing around the mouth.
You can see small blisters breaking out. It appears along the border, specifically at the outside edge where your skin of the face meets the lips. Cold sores can also appear around your cheeks or nose.
The small blisters can merge and form a large blister. It can burst, leading to the oozing of pus. So, the sores open and pus flows out. After some time, the blisters crust over.
Some people can also experience other signs during the first outbreak. So, you can suffer from the following signs:
But, some people may not experience any symptoms due to the infection. It does not cause the development of sores. This condition is called as asymptomatic infection. People are susceptible to suffer from such type of infection. Such infection occurs twice as often as the infection with signs.
Signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type of infection. If you suffer the first outbreak, then signs vary. Recurrence symptoms differ from primary infection. You can suffer from the problem for several days. In case of recurrences, the sores appear at the same spot.
From the primary infection sites, the virus moves to your spine. It specifically targets the mass of nervous tissue known as dorsal root ganglion. At the specific site, the virus starts to reproduce again. After reproduction, it becomes inactive.
The virus stays dormant in your body. But, certain triggers can cause reactivation of the virus. Stress is the main trigger leading to the recurrence of the problem. When you suffer from emotional or physical stress, it can cause the virus to attack your body. Therefore, you can see the development of new symptoms and sores. The different signs include:
- Development of sores or blisters on the mouth, nose, tongue or gums
- Burning sensation around the blisters
- Tingling or itching near the mouth (especially lips)
- Develop new small blisters that can merge and become a large red, inflamed blister
Symptoms In Children
Children below five years of age can develop mouth herpes. It can crop up inside their mouths. But, it has the appearance of canker sores. The lesions are mostly misinterpreted as canker sores that only affect the mucous membrane. The condition clears itself after a few weeks without any treatment. So, you need to make an appointment with the doctor when you suffer from the following:
- Suffer from severe symptoms
- Have a weakened immune system
- Cold sores fail to heal within two weeks
- Suffer from frequent recurrence of cold sores
- You develop eye irritation (Ocular herpes)
These symptoms indicate something is amiss. So, to avoid serious complications, you need immediate medical attention.
Causes Of Mouth Herpes
Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus. Certain strains of the virus can affect your body and trigger the problem. In the majority of cases, the HSV 1 virus causes cold sores. HSV 2 triggers genital herpes. But, either type of the virus can cause the development of sores in your mouth or genital region. People infected by HSV 1 can develop blisters around the mouth. But, they never develop other signs associated with the problem. You can develop cold sores as late as twenty days after you come in contact with the virus. You can develop the sore in the region near the place the virus has entered. Two days after the virus attacks your body, you can feel sensitive or itching at the spot. Now you might wonder about the different methods of transmission. Here are the ways the virus reaches your body:
Methods Of Transmission
You mostly get affected by the virus when you come in contact with people suffering from the infection caused by herpes simplex virus. So, the virus spreads from one person to another in the following ways:
- Come in contact with people with an active outbreak of the herpes virus or develop sores. When you become intimate with such infected people, you can suffer from mouth herpes.
- When you come in direct contact with the contagious area of the skin of the infected person. It can also spread when you touch broken skin (a break or cut). The virus is contagious with oozing blisters.
- Sharing items used by an infected person like razors, towels, dishes, utensils or other items can also spread the virus.
- You can develop cold sores when you perform oral sex on an infected person. So, kissing on lips spreads HSV-1 from one person to another. While oral sex can spread HSV-2 to the lips and oral sex spreads HIV-1 to the genital region.
- Parents can spread the infection to their children when they perform regular activities daily.
Once you suffer from the infection, the virus lies dormant in your body. You cannot eliminate the virus from your system. It lies in the nerve cells in the skin. So, the chances of recurrence as another cold sore at the same place are high. The recurrence occurs due to the following factors:
- Viral fever or infection
- Hormonal changes (like the problems linked to menstruation)
- Changes in your immune system
- Exposure to sunlight and wind
Herpes simplex virus can transmit from one person to another even without the presence of any signs. During several days throughout the year, the virus can reactivate without triggering any symptoms. The condition is referred to as viral shedding, asymptomatic shedding or asymptomatic reactivation.
Risk Factors Triggering Mouth Herpes
Mouth herpes can affect anyone at any age. The condition is common as 90% of the population around the world test positive for the virus. You may not see any symptoms associated with the viral infection. It stays dormant in the body. Only some people suffer from cold sores. It is because certain conditions can reactivate the dormant virus in the body. It is common among people with a weak immune system. So, if you suffer from a medical condition or undergo any treatments that weaken your immune system, then you face the risk of complications from the virus. People suffering from the following condition can develop cold sores easily compared to others:
- Undergo cancer chemotherapy treatment
- Suffer from HIV/AIDS
- Undergo treatment for severe burns
- Take anti-rejection drugs for organ transplants
- Experience sunburns
While the problem is not dangerous for normal people, people suffering from the above-mentioned problems can face life-threatening complications due to mouth herpes.
Complications Due To Mouth Herpes
When you suffer from mouth herpes, the virus tends to affect other areas of your body. So, you will find issues in other areas apart from your mouth. The complication due to the viral infection include:
Both types of herpes virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can spread to your fingers. The infection is also known as herpes whitlow. It is common among children who have the habit of sucking their fingers. So, the virus transfers from the mouth to their thumbs.
The virus can affect your eye and cause infection. Recurrent eye infection due to herpes virus has negative effects on your eyes. It can cause scarring or injury to the cornea. So, you can experience blurred vision, complete or partial vision loss, and other vision problems.
Affect Widespread Areas Of Skin
People who already suffer from a certain skin condition can eczema can face a higher risk of the cold sores spreading to all parts of their bodies. It can spread across your body and trigger severe discomfort. It is known as a medical emergency.
People with weak immune systems can expect the spread of the virus to other organs. So, it can affect your spinal cord or brain. When it spreads to the brain, the virus can trigger encephalitis or meningitis.
Diagnosing Mouth Herpes
If you find cold sores, then you can consult a doctor. People suffering from pain and discomfort due to the condition need to check with their doctor. The medical professional usually makes the diagnosis using the following methods:
Your doctor can diagnose the problem, based on the visual appearance of the lesion. So, people who see the development of blisters need to approach their doctor immediately. With early detection and care, you can reduce the severity of the infection.
Viral culture can reveal the presence of herpes DNA in your lesion. So, your doctor takes a sample of blister fluid using a swab test. The viral culture is an inexpensive test to detect herpes virus.
If your doctor suspects the rash is caused due to other issue or find it difficult to conclusively diagnose the problem, the PCR test can help. Testing of a swab of blister fluid can reveal the presence of the virus. It is also known as the polymerase chain reaction test. The test is useful in the first forty-eight hours before the blister crusts. The test is not helpful when lesions resolve. It is because there is no fluid sample left to culture. Once you undergo the test, you need to wait for at least three to five days to get the result. It is an expensive test, which is not available readily. So, the doctor may not suggest it for simple cold sores.
In normal cases, your doctor may not suggest a blood test to detect the herpes virus. The antibodies blood test can also determine the exposure to the virus at some point in your past. It may not point towards the presence of the virus at present. So, your doctor cannot conclusively determine if herpes causes your current lesion. But, your doctor can suggest it when other diagnosis offers no clarity on the issue or you have a specific reason to know for certain about the viral exposure.
Treatment For Mouth Herpes
While you can take medications and other alternative remedies to reduce the discomfort caused by mouth herpes, you have no cure to eliminate herpes simplex virus. The cold sores can heal without any treatment. Certain medications and home remedies can alleviate the discomfort associated with the condition. The treatment methods available to reduce the discomfort associated with mouth herpes are:
But, seeking medical assistance can shorten the outbreak duration and relieve the symptoms. So, see a doctor get the antiviral medication. The medication comes in ointment and cream form. When you apply it, it reduces the itching, burning or tingling sensation. Your doctor can also suggest oral pills or an intravenous shot of antiviral medication to shorten the duration of the outbreak of the virus. So, your doctor prescribes the following medication to shorten the duration of infection from four weeks to less time.
Some of these products are packaged as pills to be swallowed. Others are creams to be applied to the sores several times a day. In general, the pills work better than creams. For very severe infections, some antiviral drugs can be given with an injection.
Lifestyle And Home Remedies For Mouth Herpes
When you suffer from mouth herpes, you can use some home remedies to reduce the severity of the condition. Here are some of the methods you can try at home:
You have over-the-counter cold sore ointment available. The medication, docosanol can shorten the healing time required to get relief from a cold sore. To enjoy greater benefits, you need to apply it immediately after the first sign of symptoms. Use it as per the direction provided in the package. You can also use OTC preparations containing drying agents like alcohol or containing lidocaine/benzocaine for pain relief. It speeds up the healing.
Use Lip Balm/Cream
You need to protect your lips from sunlight to prevent complications. So, use a lip balm containing zinc oxide or sunblock. Also, use a moisturizing cream when your lips become dry. It can reduce the discomfort associated with mouth herpes. Use lip balms containing 1% lemon balm for healing.
You can apply a cool compress on your lips and mouth to reduce redness and crusting. It promotes the healing of cold sores. Try lemon tea compress for getting relief from the discomfort associated with the condition.
While it remains unclear about the results of studies that reflect on using alternative medicines for cold sores, you can try some treatments like:
Lysine is an amino acid that boosts your immune systems and helps with cell repair. So, you can use it as an oral supplement or cream to get desired results. Using milk is also beneficial as it contains antibodies along with lysine.
You can use ointment or creams that contain the following ingredients to heal cold sores and get relief:
- Propolis, also known commonly as synthetic beeswax can shorten the duration of the breakout. You need to purchase ointment with 3% of synthetic beeswax and apply it early to get results.
- A potent combination of sage and rhubarb offers positive results while suffering from cold sores. It is as effective as acyclovir cream.
- You can also apply a combination of mint, peppermint, and witch hazel oil on the cold sores to get relief.
- Aloe Vera gel is also helpful in providing soothing sensation to your inflamed sores. The gel also provides moisture.
- You can also apply a paste made of cornstarch and water on the sores to get soothing effects.
- A mixture containing licorice powder and petroleum jelly/water is applied directly on the sores to get relief. Licorice root contains antiviral properties as it contains glycyrrhizic acid.
Stress triggers several issues in your body, including cold sores. So, if you experience cold sores, then you need to try relaxation techniques to get relief. Try meditation and deep breathing techniques to reduce stress.
Preventing Mouth Herpes
While it is impossible to prevent mouth herpes completely, you can take some steps to ensure you remain safe from the viral attack. If you suffer from cold sores, then you can try to prevent it from spreading to others. You can also adopt some techniques to reduce its severity. Here are some of the tips:
To Prevent Viral Attack
- Try to avoid close contact with people suffering from mouth herpes.
- Wash your hands to keep it clean and prevent the virus from reaching your body.
- Never use personal items of other people.
To Prevent Severity And Recurrence
- Avoid sharing towels, lip balm, utensils or other items that increase the risk of virus spread when you see blisters.
- Avoid skin-to-skin contact with others when you develop cold sores. The increase of spreading is high when you see moist secretions from the blisters.
- Wash your hands before you touch any part of the body or other people, especially babies.
- To avoid recurrence or serious complications of cold sores, you need to take antiviral medications prescribed by your doctor regularly.
- If you develop the blisters frequently due to sunlight exposure, then wear sunscreen to sunblock the spot.
Mouth herpes is a common condition that can affect anyone at any time. But, with simple precautionary measures, you can avoid the problem. If you suffer from the viral infection, then get help from your doctor to reduce the discomfort associated with it. With good care, you can reduce the duration of the outbreak and prevent a recurrence.View Article Sources