Herpes in the mouth

Knowledge about

Herpes is a widespread virus that has a significant characteristic. The virus will stay in the body for the rest of your life, as it settles in the body’s cells. Fortunately, this does not necessarily mean that you will be bothered by repeated outbreaks of herpes in the mouth or elsewhere on the body. For many, the virus will lie dormant for many years or the rest of your life. But approx. 20% of those infected will experience herpes outbreaks at regular intervals for the rest of their lives. You cannot cure herpes since it is a virus and scientists have not yet invented an effective medicine against the virus. But you can treat and relieve the symptoms when you have an outbreak.

Herpes virus in the mouth

There are two different types of herpes; Oral herpes, also known as herpes 1 or herpes labialis, is the most common type. When you are infected with herpes type 1, you will typically experience periods when the virus breaks out and other periods when the virus is at rest. Some will experience frequent outbreaks, while others may go years without noticing the virus. The luckiest will only experience a single outbreak, after which they will notice nothing about the virus for the rest of their lives. It differs from individual to individual, how often one is affected and afflicted by herpes outbreaks. Some suffer from many and frequent outbreaks, while others experience outbreaks rarely or almost never. When the virus is in an outbreak, herpes in the mouth will appear as sores and blisters in the area around the mouth, lips and on the rest of the face. It will typically cause symptoms such as burning, itching, tenderness and swelling in the affected area, and herpes inside the mouth can also make it painful to eat and drink. Approx. 80% of the human population are infected with herpes, and the vast majority become infected as children before they are five years old.

The vast majority of the population is infected with herpes, but only a small group experiences repeatedly outbreaks. Approx. 20% of those infected experience repeated outbreaks of infection.

How is oral herpes transmitted?

Herpes around the mouth is also called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). When a person becomes infected with herpes type 1, it happens via skin contact or mucous membrane contact. You can infect or become infected with the herpes virus through kisses, close hugs or other forms of contact that involve close skin contact or contact with mucous membranes. In rare cases, herpes is also transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy.

Some viruses are only contagious when in an outbreak. Unfortunately, this is not the case for herpes 1.  The virus is on your skin some time before you actually feel an outbreak, but of course you can only react when you actually feel the outbreak emerge. When you have had herpes for some time you will be able to feel the symptoms in the very start and then act in a responsible way in order to avoid passing on the infection.  Especially regarding herpes in the mouth there is a risk of infection through mucosal and skin contact. You cannot infect a person already infected with herpes 2 with herpes 1.     

People with herpes 2 are basically immune to herpes 1. But do you have herpes 1 yourself and are exposed to infection by someone with herpes 2, you may well be infected with this type of herpes too.

What does oral herpes look like?

There are several signs and symptoms of an oral herpes outbreak. For most, an outbreak will be identifiable in the form of the herpes sores on the lips, also known as cold sores. Many who have experienced herpes outbreaks will typically be able to feel an outbreak before it can be seen. The skin will become sore, swollen and irritated before the outbreak becomes visible. First you get sore, then you get blisters, and they later turn into sores. In addition to soreness and irritation on the skin, sores on the skin around the mouth, nose and eyes are also a classic sign of an outbreak. Others also experience herpes symptoms on the tongue and in the throat. The whole face can be affected by herpes and not just the area around the mouth. In addition to the blisters and sores, you can also experience other symptoms of herpes inside the mouth, such as fever, headache, pain or irritation in the skin or mucous membranes, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms occur especially at the first outbreak, also called the primary infection. This can also result in sore throat or a corneal inflammation

Are herpes and cold sores the same?

Cold sores occur as a result of the herpes 1 also known as herpes labialis. When herpes is breaking out, it will be experienced as cold sores on the lips. Typically, an outbreak starts with a tingling, burning or itching sensation on the lip, and after a few hours many will experience small blisters appearing on the lip. An outbreak often lasts between 7-10 days, and in most cases, there will be no scar. When the blisters burst, the cold sore appear and a scab will form on the sore. If you experience that the scab becomes yellowish or that the sore does not heal, there may be a risk that your sore has been infected with staphylococci. Then you must contact your doctor.

Herpes 1 can also be experienced as sores and blisters in the mouth and throat, near the nose, eyes and generally all over the face. In all cases, the common symptoms are that the skin is irritated and swollen.

Can herpes spread from the mouth to the genitals?

Herpes on the lips is contagious through physical contact, and therefore there is a risk that you can transfer herpes from the mouth to the genitals or vice versa through oral sex or other physical contact. When you have an outbreak of herpes in the mouth or in the area around the genitals, you must avoid having sex and other close physical contact. If you have herpes2/HSV-2 you cannot get infected with HSV-1. That means that if you have HSV/herpes 1 you can infect anybody, but persons already infected with herpes 2. If you have herpes 1, you may well be infected with herpes 2 as well.

Oral herpes in children

Many children are infected with herpes 1 on the lip and in the mouth. Approx. 80% of the population is infected with herpes 1, and a large part of this 80% becomes infected before they reach the age of five. The frequent infection among young children is due to the fact, that children touches each others much more than adults do and that the small children puts everything in their mouths. Children are typically very direct in their contact with other people, and this is wonderful, but it also poses a greater risk of infection to, among other things, herpes. Herpes in the mouth is neither dangerous for adults nor children, and there is no need to panic or worry if your child becomes infected. However, the child can experience discomfort and irritation in the infected area, and it may be a good idea to seek medical help or to get creams etc. to relieve and treat symptoms.

Regarding newborns, a herpes infection can be dangerous to newborns, and you must never be in physical contact with newborns if you have an outbreak of herpes. An infection can cause serious complications, can cause blindness and in special cases be fatal. If you have herpes, but not in an outbreak, you must pay close attention to your hygiene for the sake of the newborn. You must avoid kissing the newborn before the little one has built up the immune system, which usually means approx. the first month after a normal birth, after 40 weeks of pregnancy.