Herpes in the Mouth and on the Lip

Labial herpes

Many individuals repeatedly suffer from lip herpes: It starts with a slight tingling, and days later, a swollen lip with typical herpes blisters develops.

Lip herpes is also referred to as cold sores or herpes labialis, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The itchy, fluid-filled herpes blisters often appear in the mouth area, with the lips and corners of the mouth being particularly affected. When such a cold sore bursts, a small painful wound remains, covered with a yellow crust.

It is important to note that facial, lip, or mouth herpes, while unpleasant, generally does not cause serious health problems.

Aphthae on the lips and lip herpes are two different conditions that are often confused due to their similar symptoms.

What is Herpes in the Mouth?

The term “herpes in the mouth” is very general and encompasses any form of herpes outbreak in the oral area. Annoying cold sores in the mouth can affect the entire oral cavity, manifesting on the tongue, gums, palate, or cheeks.

“Herpes on the tongue,” colloquially known as tongue herpes, can make speaking difficult and make the tongue very sensitive to acidic, spicy, and salty foods.

Herpes on the gums, palate, or cheeks also occasionally occurs and exhibits similar symptoms—irritated and painfully reddened mucous membranes.

Some patients report having herpes in the throat, referring to an outbreak of cold sores on the throat lining. This can cause symptoms such as sore throat and difficulty swallowing.

Although oral herpes can be very uncomfortable and bothersome, the symptoms usually subside on their own after 1 to 2 weeks. Please be mindful not to excessively irritate the sensitive areas and avoid acidic, salty, and highly spiced foods. Hot drinks and foods should also be avoided, as they can further stress the injured mucous membrane.

What is Lip Herpes?

Herpes often breaks out on the lips, referred to as lip herpes in such cases. This results in typical cold sores on the lips, which burst and crust over after a few days.

Occasionally, individuals find it challenging to distinguish lip herpes from a pimple on the lip. The main difference lies in the crusting after the blisters burst, which does not occur with small pimples.

Since stress is a common trigger for lip herpes, these blisters are also called stress blisters on the lip. Overall, lip herpes is a specific term focusing on herpes outbreaks in the lip area, while “herpes in the mouth” is a broader term encompassing all outbreaks in the oral area. However, in most cases, the causes, symptoms, and treatments for both forms of herpes are similar.

Herpes Symptoms & Diagnosis

A significant portion of the population regularly experiences symptoms of herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Below, we aim to provide information on the symptoms and diagnosis of herpes:

Symptoms of Herpes:

  • Itching and Burning: Herpes outbreaks often begin with an unpleasant itching or burning sensation at the affected site.
  • Redness and Swelling: The skin around the affected area may become red and swollen.
  • Formation of Blisters: Typical for herpes are small blisters filled with clear or yellowish cloudy fluid, which can form in groups. These blisters can appear at various locations on the body, with a preference for the lips.
  • Pain: The blisters can cause pain when touched or when moving the mouth and lips.
  • Crusts: After the blisters burst, fluid is released, and yellowish crusts form.
  • Fever and General Malaise: Some individuals may experience general symptoms such as fever, headaches, and overall discomfort during a herpes outbreak.
  • Swelling of Lymph Nodes: Nearby lymph nodes can swell and be painful, with neck lymph nodes being commonly affected.

Diagnosis of Herpes:

  • Clinical Examination: A dentist can often diagnose herpes based on visible symptoms. The characteristic blisters and lesions after bursting are common signs of the disease.
  • Virus Culture: A sample of fluids from the blisters can be taken, and if the herpes virus is present, a virus culture can be established.
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Test: This test can detect the presence of herpes DNA in a sample and is a particularly sensitive method for herpes diagnosis.
  • Antibody Tests: Blood tests can detect antibodies against the herpes virus, providing an indication of whether a person has been previously infected with the virus.

Possible Triggers & Causes of Herpes

Many people wonder why they get herpes and what the causes and triggers are. Whether on the lip or in the mouth, herpes is caused by the same herpes simplex virus (HSV). Most individuals already carry the virus, which resides in peripheral nerve cells, waiting for an outbreak. Thus, the cause is differentiated between reactivation of the persistent virus and a new infection.

Stress is considered one of the common triggers for herpes reactivation, which is why the term “stress blisters” is occasionally used. A stressed immune system facilitates the persistent virus’s replication, leading to an outbreak. Consequently, it is not uncommon for individuals to be more susceptible to herpes during stressful periods.

Other triggers for a herpes outbreak include a weakened immune system, fatigue, sun exposure, or hormonal changes.

In the case of a new herpes infection, transmission occurs from an infected and contagious person. Direct contact with infected lips, such as through kissing, can lead to herpes transmission, with infection possible at any stage of the viral disease.

When and How Long Is Herpes Contagious?

The question of when and how long herpes is contagious often arises. Generally, herpes is an infectious viral disease, and the infected person is contagious throughout the entire outbreak. Transmission can occur from the first tingling of the lip and continues until the sores are completely healed.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with the infected areas, causing herpes infection. The likelihood of transmission is highest during the time of strongest symptoms and pain. However, the virus can also be shed when no visible symptoms are present, though the risk is very low.

The probability of infection varies from person to person and is influenced by factors such as the immune system and the overall health of the “infected” person.

To minimize the spread of herpes, it is essential to take precautions during active outbreaks and avoid direct contact with the affected areas.

Duration & Course of Lip Herpes and Herpes in the Mouth

After infection, it takes several days or even weeks for the first symptoms to manifest. This period is known as the herpes incubation period, describing the time between the entry of the virus and the onset of initial symptoms.

The duration of an episode of lip herpes can extend up to two weeks, causing significant distress for those affected. The course often begins with tingling or itching of the lips, followed by the formation of painful blisters. This process can last for several days, proving inconvenient and uncomfortable for the affected individuals. Subsequently, the blisters open, releasing clear to yellowish fluid, and crusts form. Improvement and complete healing of the sores occur only after crust formation.

The question “How long does lip herpes last?” concerns many affected individuals. Fortunately, the duration of lip herpes can be effectively shortened through appropriate measures, as detailed in the article below.

Treating Herpes in the Mouth and on the Lips

Due to the different locations, individual treatment approaches are required. Below are explanations of conventional medical treatments, home remedies, and naturopathic therapies for both oral and lip herpes.

Conventional Treatment for Lip Herpes

In conventional treatments for lip herpes, ointments, patches, or tablets are used to alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration.

  • Herpes Creams and Lip Herpes Cream: An often-used method involves applying special herpes creams or lip herpes creams containing antiviral agents. These substances aim to suppress the replication of the herpes simplex virus and shorten the outbreak's duration. It is crucial to apply the cream (e.g., with the active ingredient Aciclovir) at the first signs of lip herpes for optimal results. While Aciclovir is a potent remedy for lip herpes, the use of creams and ointments provides purely symptomatic and short-term relief. Alternatively, zinc-based ointments (known as zinc ointments) can also offer symptomatic support.
  • Lip Herpes Patches: Lip herpes patches are designed to dry out the herpes blisters by binding the wound secretions. Additionally, they are meant to cover the reddened areas and promote wound healing. One should not use herpes creams or ointments along with patches, as they can easily detach, losing their adhesive properties.
  • Herpes Tablets: Medications against herpes in the form of tablets typically contain antiviral drugs such as Aciclovir. Intake should only occur after consultation with a general practitioner and should be limited to severe and intense outbreaks.

Treatment of Herpes in the Mouth

Conventional treatment for oral herpes also requires targeted measures to alleviate unpleasant symptoms. Early intervention is crucial when oral herpes appears.

  • Creams and Gels for Oral Herpes: For the mucous membrane, there are creams and gels against oral herpes containing antiviral agents. Since saliva rinses the mouth, detachment and swallowing are more likely, reducing the effectiveness of creams, ointments, and gels in the oral cavity.
  • Tablets for Oral Herpes: The same medications in tablet form are used for oral herpes as for lip herpes, with Aciclovir being the most commonly used active ingredient.
  • Mouthwashes: Studies show the effectiveness of chlorhexidine mouthwash for oral herpes. Again, the application should be short-term and after consultation with your dentist.

Home Remedies for Herpes in the Mouth Area

Home remedies can provide effective and natural support in relieving oral herpes.

  • Tea Tree Oil: A proven home remedy for lip herpes is tea tree oil, which can be applied to the affected areas with a cotton swab diluted in a little water.
  • Aloe Vera: The gel from the Aloe Vera plant can be applied directly to the herpes sites and removed after a 15-minute exposure.
  • Honey: Another popular home remedy is applying honey to the affected areas. Honey has antimicrobial properties and can help soothe the skin and alleviate itching. It is recommended to apply a thin layer of honey several times a day to the affected areas.
  • Cooling Compresses: The use of cooling compresses can also be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. A cloth soaked in cold water can be gently placed on the affected areas. This can be combined with the soothing effect of chamomile tea. A compress with cold chamomile tea cools and simultaneously has an anti-inflammatory effect on the wounded area. Alternatively, lemon balm tea can also be used.

Naturopathic Therapy for Herpes

There are several effective naturopathic measures to positively influence the course of lip herpes or herpes in the mouth.

  • Silicon in the Form of Silicic Acid Gel: Silicon, in the form of silicic acid gel, can be applied to the affected herpes sites. The gel is capable of absorbing a lot of moisture and promotes gentle drying and healing of lip herpes.
  • Propolis: Propolis is a substance from plant resins and secretions of bees and is known for its antibiotic and antiviral effects. Internal intake of propolis or the application of a propolis ointment can have therapeutic effects on herpes.
  • Lactoferrin: Lactoferrin is an iron-binding substance found in colostrum, the first milk. Taken as a dietary supplement, lactoferrin shows efficacy against herpes. Alternatively, a high-quality colostrum powder can be used.
  • Medicinal Mushrooms Against Herpes: Some medicinal mushrooms have therapeutic effects against herpes. Mushrooms such as Coriolus, Reishi, Shiitake, and Chaga are among those that can be applied in the case of herpes.

Nutrition for Herpes

Diet can play a role in controlling herpes outbreaks, particularly concerning the amino acids lysine and arginine.

Arginine, in large quantities, supports viral replication by the herpes simplex virus. If there is less arginine present, the virus incorporates more of the amino acid lysine into the DNA, strongly suppressing replication.

Therefore, a diet with less arginine and more lysine is recommended for herpes. This can lead to a shorter and milder course or even prevent an outbreak entirely. Maintaining a favorable ratio between arginine and lysine involves avoiding nuts, grains, and chocolate.

For oral herpes, avoid consuming hot, spicy, sour, and salty foods and drinks. Instead, focus on consuming cooling and soothing foods.

Lastly, it is crucial to stay adequately hydrated during a lip herpes outbreak. Drink at least 2 liters of high-quality water or herbal teas (made from loose leaves) daily to positively support the healing process.

Frequently asked Questions about Herpes in the Mouth and on the Lips

As similar questions often arise from those affected, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions about herpes in the mouth and on the lips for your reference.

It is crucial to handle herpes in children, especially in the case of lip herpes in babies, with extra care to prevent potential spread. Consultation with a pediatrician is always recommended.

To get rid of herpes or lip herpes as quickly as possible, the application of antiviral creams or ointments may help. It is advisable to start treatment early and seek medical advice to expedite the healing process.

Distinguishing between herpes, canker sores, shingles, or pimples can sometimes be challenging. An accurate diagnosis can only be made by an experienced doctor.

After a herpes infection, one should refrain from kissing until the visible symptoms have subsided, and the affected areas are completely healed.

Herpes is particularly contagious when pronounced symptoms such as blisters, pain, redness, and swelling are present. Transmission without visible symptoms is possible but correspondingly unlikely.

In the case of recurrent lip herpes, it is advisable to seek medical advice to discuss suitable methods for treatment and prevention.

Generally, it is not recommended to dry out herpes. Intensive dehydration can weaken healthy tissue, adversely affecting wound healing. Mild drying, for example, with silicic acid gel, is recommended. Alternatively, keeping it moist with an effective cream is a good practice at the onset of symptoms.

There is a possibility that lip herpes may occur more frequently during pregnancy, as hormonal changes can influence the immune system. It is advisable to take special precautions during pregnancy and discuss the matter with your primary care physician.

Further information

The information listed contains relevant topics for a better understanding.