Symptoms and Signs of Oral Herpes (Herpes Simplex)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 6/22/2022

Doctor's Notes on Oral Herpes (Herpes Simplex)

Oral herpes refers to herpes simplex virus infections of the mouth. The herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause infections that affect the mouth, face, genitals, skin, buttocks, and the anal area. HSV type 1 (HSV-1) more commonly infects the mouth than HSV-2, which most commonly affects the genital area, but both types can infect any location. HSV-1 infection of the mouth produces the condition commonly referred to as a cold sore.

The characteristic appearance of oral herpes is a cluster of painful blisters on a base of red skin. These blisters appear to be filled with a clear fluid. When they dry up, there is a crust or scab that lasts for days to weeks. Associated symptoms can include a tingling or a burning sensation in the area that occurs before the actual outbreak. Itching can be another associated symptom.

What Is the Treatment for Oral Herpes?

There is no cure for oral herpes because the virus remains dormant in the body for life. However, drugs are available that may reduce the severity of attacks. The treatment for oral herpes can involve the following:

  • Topical antiviral medications in cream form (a prescription is required)
  • Oral antiviral medications, especially if given when symptoms first appear before the rash develops
  • Application of cool compresses to control pain
  • Frequent hand washing and sanitizing to prevent spread of the infection to other parts of the body

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.