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What Is Oral Herpes?

Oral herpes is a common infection that’s usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). People often contract oral herpes at a young age from the kiss of a friend or relative. Learn more about what oral herpes is, how it’s spread, and what you can do about it.

Oral Herpes Symptoms

Oral herpes is a very common infection in the United States and many people carry the virus while experiencing few or no symptoms. When outbreaks do occur, they cause sores around the mouth. These can appear on the gums, lips, tongue, throat, inside of the cheek, or roof of the mouth. In rare cases, oral herpes sores may also spread down the chin and neck.

Herpes sores often look like small fluid-filled blisters. These blisters erupt then break down into shallow gray ulcers that are red around the edges. In a few days, the sores crust over and become dry and yellow. In some individuals, the oral herpes rash is much more subtle and is often mistaken for a pimple, bug bite, or chapped lips.

This virus goes through three stages after you become infected.

  • Primary infection: Many people do not have symptoms with their primary infection. In fact, the primary infection occurs without symptoms twice as often as it occurs with symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include sores, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and body aches. Symptoms usually appear within two to 12 days of the initial contact with the virus.
  • Latency: After an outbreak, the virus becomes dormant for a period of time. It resides in the nerve mass in the spine.
  • Recurrence: The herpes virus can spontaneously become active again. This may be caused by certain stressors in the individual’s life or by exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Menstruation, surgery, a physical injury, or a recent fever may also bring on a herpes outbreak. Recurrent episodes usually last eight to 10 days. People typically experience sores similar to those that happened with the first outbreak.

Many people with oral herpes experience warning symptoms. This is usually a tingling or itching sensation around the mouth where the sores most commonly appear. These warning signs happen one to two days before active sores appear. The virus is active during this time, so those with oral herpes should take care to avoid close contact with others when they feel an outbreak coming on.

How Oral Herpes Is Spread

Oral herpes can pass from one person to another any time the virus comes into contact with a person’s mucous membranes, which are present in the mouth, or with an open cut or sore. Oral herpes is easily spread through contact with open sores, but it’s possible to contract the virus even when sores aren’t present. You can also get oral herpes through an infected item such as a razor or towel that came into contact with the virus.

Parents often spread HSV-1 to their children through common everyday activities and close contact. This is why so many people get oral herpes at a young age.

Though oral herpes is most commonly caused by HSV-1, you can also get oral herpes from HSV-2. HSV-2 is usually associated with genital herpes, but it can cause oral herpes if this virus comes into contact with the mouth. Therefore, performing oral sex on someone with genital herpes may result in oral herpes from HSV-2. Likewise, you can get genital herpes from someone with oral herpes if they perform oral sex on you when the virus is active. Genital herpes infections from HSV-1 are on the rise.

Treatment for Oral Herpes

There is no cure for oral herpes, but it is a very manageable condition. Antiviral medications, like valacyclovir, are available, which can help cold sores heal more quickly. These medications can also help prevent cold sores in those who get them often. If you’ve been previously diagnosed with herpes, Nurx can prescribe oral herpes treatment online and deliver the medication to your door with free shipping.

Ointments are available to ease the pain and discomfort of cold sores. Pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease some of the discomfort associated with an outbreak.

Oral Herpes Diagnosis

Oral herpes can be diagnosed with a visual examination. Your local healthcare provider can usually tell you if you have oral herpes simply by examining the sores during an outbreak. Your doctor may also take a swab test or blood test to confirm the diagnosis. If you’re concerned that you have oral herpes but do not have active sores, your doctor can also perform a blood test to look for herpes antibodies.

How to Protect Yourself From Oral Herpes

It’s often difficult to prevent the transmission of oral herpes, since it can spread through a kiss even when symptoms aren’t present. The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to avoid close contact with others when they have an active outbreak. You should also avoid oral contact with someone who has an active genital herpes outbreak.

Oral Herpes Statistics

Oral herpes is very common. Since it can be asymptomatic, it’s possible that you have oral herpes without knowing it. Though uncomfortable, oral herpes rarely causes serious complications.

  • In the United States, most people have HSV-1 by age 20, having contracted it through close contact with a relative.
  • It’s estimated that 50% to 80% of adults in the U.S. have oral herpes.
  • About 90% of adults have been exposed to the herpes virus by age 50.
  • HSV-1 causes 80% of oral herpes infections.
  • HSV-2 causes the remaining 20% of oral herpes infections.

If you have oral herpes, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms to avoid transmission to others. Keep in mind that oral herpes can come from both the HSV-1 and HSV-2 strains, and you can pass both herpes strains on through contact with the mouth or genitals. Speak with your local healthcare provider or a member of the Nurx medical team to learn more about how you can minimize your oral herpes symptoms and clear up outbreaks faster so you don’t have to deal with this infection often.

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