The word herpes is derived from a Greek word that means “to creep.” The infection creeps along nerve pathways toward nerve clusters, where the virus that causes it remains inactive for relatively long periods of time. Herpes most commonly affects two parts of the body – the mouth and the genitals. While both forms are quite common, oral herpes is more rampant than you think. The first time someone can be infected with it can be as early as 6 months of age and 60–90% of people are infected with it by the time they reach adulthood.
Cause Of Oral Herpes
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), an extremely contagious virus that spreads through direct contact and manifests in two forms. These two forms differ from one another based on the proteins on their surfaces.1
- HSV-1: This form of HSV is responsible for oral herpes. It spreads particularly quickly to other people if the infected person is experiencing an outbreak. Children can contract this virus from an infected parent too.
- HSV-2: This form of HSV causes herpes in the genital areas. However, in some instances, it can spread to the mouth through oral sex and result in oral herpes.
Oral herpes can spread through:
- Intimate physical contact, like kissing and oral sex with an infected person
- Eating with shared utensils
- Shared makeup like lipsticks and lip balms
Symptoms Of Oral Herpes
Oral herpes usually affects the lips. However, in some cases, it may also affect the mucous membranes in the mouth. In rare cases, it could result in infections on the cheeks or in the nose, too.
More often than not, those infected by HSV-1 don’t show any noticeable symptoms. Some people, however, start developing symptoms like:2
- Blisters on the lips, which may also be accompanied by blisters on the tongue
- An increase in salivation
- Bad breath
In rare situations, these symptoms are accompanied by:
- Swallowing difficulty
- Muscle pain
The blisters caused by HSV-1 eventually rupture, resulting in painful sores. These sores can take up to 2 weeks to heal. Some people tend to have recurring oral herpes infections, which result in the same symptoms in a milder form.
Oral herpes symptoms could be triggered by factors like:3
- An injury in the affected area
- Exposure to strong sunlight
- Another infection, like that of a respiratory tract
- Menstrual periods
Possible Complications Of Oral Herpes
Oral herpes usually goes away on its own and isn’t usually life-threatening. However, in some rare cases, it could result in complications.4
- Young children with oral herpes may have a difficulty drinking fluids and suffer from severe dehydration.
- Contact of the HSV-1 with broken skin can result in skin infections.
- Oral herpes may progress to result in a condition called herpetic whitlow, which causes painful blisters and sores on and around the fingers.
- Touching your eyes when you have an unhealed sore could cause a corneal infection, which could progress and cause blindness.
- In extremely rare situations, the HSV-1 could result in a condition called encephalitis, wherein the virus spreads to the brain and causes it swell and become inflamed.
Treatment Of Oral Herpes
While the symptoms usually go away on their own without any treatment, simple steps like the following can help you prevent them:
- Ease pain caused by the sores with ice.
- Prevent the virus from spreading to other body parts by washing the sores with antiseptic soap and water.
- Steer clear of spicy and excessively salty foods.
- Gargle frequently with cool water.
Reducing The Transmission Risk Of Oral Herpes
While it’s difficult to prevent oral herpes from occurring, taking these simple steps is likely to lower the risk of its transmission:
- Avoid sharing items like cups, towels, and makeup products such as lipsticks and lip balms.
- Steer clear of physical forms of intimacy like kissing and oral sex with an infected person.
- Apply sunblock containing zinc oxide to protect your skin and lips.
Now that you’re equipped with all there is know about oral herpes, you can do all there is to be done from your end to avoid being caught off-guard by this contagious infection.