What Is Orolabial Herpes?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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Orolabial herpes is a type of infection that affects the mouth or lips and is usually caused by the herpes simplex virus, although this condition can also be caused by the same form of the herpes virus that causes genital herpes. The more common names for orolabial herpes are fever blisters or cold sores. The first outbreak may not occur for weeks or months following exposure to the virus, and recurrent outbreaks can be unpredictable. Treatment options include oral and topical medications, although symptoms will disappear on their own within a few days, even if no treatment methods are used. Any questions or concerns about orolabial herpes or the best treatment options on an individual basis should be discussed with a doctor or other medical professional.

A person who is infected with orolabial herpes may not initially exhibit any symptoms, often leading to the person infecting others with the virus without knowing. This is a contagious condition that can spread through intimate contact such as kissing, sharing eating utensils, or sometimes through oral sex. Symptoms usually develop within a week or two of becoming infected, allowing plenty of time to accidentally transfer the virus to another person. After a few outbreaks, the patient can generally tell when the blisters are about to appear and can start treatment early, often shortening the duration of the outbreak.


The first orolabial herpes outbreak is usually more severe than subsequent outbreaks, although this is not always the case. Fever, swollen glands, and sore throat may develop a few days before the lesions become noticeable. The affected area of the mouth may begin to tingle a couple of days before the lesions develop. Fever blisters may become painful and often break open and ooze before scaling over and eventually disappearing. This entire process can last between one and three weeks.

Medical treatment is not generally necessary for orolabial herpes, although symptoms may be reduced and healing may occur more rapidly if the cold sores are treated. Oral antiviral medications may be given by a physician in some cases, although many recommend the use of over-the-counter topical ointments. If outbreaks occur frequently, oral medications may be recommended for daily use. If over-the-counter ointments do not provide adequate relief, prescription-strength antiviral ointments may be recommended. Caution should be taken not to spread this virus, and the doctor will usually provide information on avoiding the spread of orolabial herpes, including instructions on practicing safe sex.


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