A Herpes diagnosis can be very scary for a person to receive from their doctor. Mostly because one rather nasty version attacks the genital area and is a long lasting sexually transmitted disease (STD) that you can never get rid of. Thankfully, the more common varieties of herpes (which most people suffer from) only affects the lips and mouth and does not contain the same stigma as genital herpes.
Herpes on the lips is caused by the herpes simplex I virus otherwise known as oral herpes. It is most commonly known for its manifestation of cold sores and blisters on and around the lip area. Painful, yes; contagious, yes; but this type of herpes is not considered an STD.
Acting much like its more insidious genital form, oral herpes begins with a sudden outbreak of cold sores and blisters in around the lips and mouth 2-3 weeks after being exposed to the virus. Outbreaks can last a few days or a few weeks, depending on your body’s immune system results. Repeated outbreaks can be expected every few months.
The First Signs of Herpes
For most people, the very first sign that herpes may have been contracted is a tingling or burning sensation on the lips and mouth. This can happen several hours or several days before the appearance of the first blisters.
Next, the area around the mouth being affected will likely begin to swell and become red and irritated looking.
Finally, blisters begin to appear along the top of the red irritated area. Nastier than the common cold sore, these blisters tend to fill with fluid; cracked and then drain. The entire process can take several painful days.
Itching can become a real problem for patients as the after the blisters erupt and begin to dry up. Trying hard not to scratch or touch them is essential to aid the healing process as well as keep the virus from spreading to other areas of the body. Remember, you are highly contagious at this point and should avid skin to skin contact with others during such an outbreak.
Other signs and symptoms of herpes simplex I include: fever, swollen glands, sores inside of the mouth, bleeding gums and general flu-like symptoms.
The Phases of Herpes Simplex I
There are two main phases of herpes simplex I:
- The main outbreak – this is considered the first major outbreak after contamination
- Subsequent outbreaks – these can happen 2-6 times per year, with blisters and cold sores appearing in and around the lips for no apparent reasons. Then periods of remission take place, with no visible signs of the disease. For some people, these times of remission can last months or even years, but eventually the virus will appear once again in the form of a new outbreak.
What Causes a Herpes Outbreak
In the vast majority of cases, oral herpes is contracted as a child or teenager by sharing drinks, foods, kissing, etc. Later, as an adult, certain things can aggravate the condition, causing outbreaks. Some of these causes include:
- stress – this can compromise the immune system, causing the virus to wake out of its dormant state
- illness that also compromise the immune system
- poor diet
Herpes is Contagious!
While most people understand the importance of avoiding close or intimate contact with people during an outbreak, many do not understand how contagious this virus is. The infection is not just spread from person to person, but can be spread from an inanimate object used by a herpes patient during an active outbreak. This means that you should avoid drinking from the same cup; sharing toothbrushes or washcloths, and more when visible sores are present. Of course, kissing and oral sex should also be off limits during this time.
For those suffering an outbreaks, be careful not transmit your own disease to your eyes through infected fingers. This can be extremely painful. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching open blisters.
How Herpes on Lips Differs From Genital Herpes
Herpes on lips is caused by the herpes simplex virus type I, while genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 2. Even though the strain of virus is different in genital herpes, the symptoms are very similar, which makes many people confuse the two. Showing almost identical symptoms (just in different areas of the body), both herpes strains are permanent conditions which result in regular outbreaks of open sores and blisters. Oral herpes, however, does tend to go into longer dormant stages than genital herpes and does not require ongoing medications that herpes simplex 2 requires.
Generally speaking, oral herpes is more an annoyance than a serious health concern. Still, some people find it difficult to eat and drink during an outbreak, which could lead to dehydration in more serious cases. If you find that your herpes outbreaks are becoming more severe, or causing other health issues, see your doctor immediately.