Is Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis?
Recurrent herpes simplex labialis, also known as oral herpes, is an infection of the mouth
area caused by the herpes simplex virus. It’s a common and contagious infection
that spreads easily. According to the American
Sexual Health Association, over half of adults in the United States carry
The infection causes blisters and sores on the lips, mouth,
tongue or gums. After an initial infection, the virus stays dormant inside the
nerve cells of the face. Later on in life, the virus can reactivate and result
in more sores. The herpes is recurrent when this happens. These are commonly known
as cold sores or fever blisters.
Recurrent herpes simplex labialis is usually not serious, but
relapses are common. Many people choose to treat the recurrent episodes with
over-the-counter creams. The symptoms will usually go away without treatment in
a few weeks. A doctor may prescribe medications if relapses occur often.
Causes Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis?
Herpes simplex labialis is the result of a virus called herpes
simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The initial infection usually occurs before age
20. It typically affects the lips and areas around the mouth.
You can get the virus from close personal contact with someone
who has the virus. You can also get oral herpes from touching objects where the
virus may be present. These include towels, utensils, razors for shaving, and
other shared items.
After the first infection, the virus lays dormant inside the
nerve cells of the face for the rest of a person’s life. This means that
symptoms aren’t always present. However, certain events can make the virus reawaken
and lead to a recurrent herpes infection. Events that trigger a recurrent
infection of oral herpes might include:
- a high-stress event
- hormonal changes
- upper respiratory infection
- extreme temperature
- a weakened immune system
- recent dental work or surgery
the Signs of Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis
The primary infection may not cause symptoms at all. If it does,
blisters may appear near or on the mouth within one to three weeks after your first
contact with the virus. The blisters might last up to three weeks. In general,
a recurrent episode is milder than the initial infection.
Symptoms of a recurrent episode may include:
- blisters or sores on the mouth, lips, tongue,
nose, or gums
- burning pain around the blisters
- tingling or itching near the lips
- outbreaks of several small blisters that grow
together and may be red and inflamed
Tingling on or near the lips is usually a warning sign that the
cold sores of recurrent oral herpes are about to appear in one to two days.
Is Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis Diagnosed?
A doctor will typically diagnose oral herpes by examining the
blisters and sores on your face. They might also send samples of the blister to
a laboratory to test specifically for HSV-1.
Complications of a Herpes Infection
Recurrent herpes simplex labialis can be dangerous if the
blisters or sores occur near the eyes. The infection can lead to scarring of
the cornea. The cornea is the clear tissue covering the eye that helps to focus
images that you see.
Other complications include:
- a frequent recurrence of the sores and blisters
that requires constant treatment
- the spread of the virus to other parts of the
- a widespread bodily infection, which can be
serious in people who already have a weakened immune system, such as people
with AIDS or HIV
Options for Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis
You can’t get rid of the virus itself. Once infected, HSV-1 will
remain in your body forever, even if you don’t have recurrent episodes.
Symptoms of a recurrent episode usually go away within one to two weeks without
any treatment. The blisters will usually scab and crust over before they
Applying ice or a warm cloth to the face or taking a pain
reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) might help to reduce any pain. Some
people choose to use over-the-counter skin creams. However, these creams
usually only shorten an oral herpes relapse by one or two days.
Your doctor may prescribe oral antiviral medicines such as
acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir to fight the virus. These medicines
work better if you take them when you experience the first signs of a mouth
sore, such as tingling on the lips, and before the blisters appear. These
medications don’t cure herpes and may not stop you from spreading the virus to
For cases of recurrent herpes simplex labialis that result in
frequent mouth sores, your doctor may advise you to use the medication all the
the Spread of Herpes
The following tips may help prevent the infection from
reactivating or spreading.
- Wash any items that may have had contact with
the infected sores, like towels, in boiling water after use.
- Don’t share food utensils or other personal
items with people who have oral herpes.
- Don’t share cold sore creams with anyone.
- Don’t kiss or participate in oral sex with
someone who has cold sores.
- To keep the virus from spreading to other parts
of the body, don’t touch the blisters or sores. If you do, wash your hands with
soap and water immediately.
Symptoms usually go away within one to two weeks. However, the cold
sore episodes can frequently return. The rate and severity of the sores usually
diminish as you get older.
Infections near the eye or in immune-compromised individuals can
be serious. You should see your doctor in these cases.