An Overview

Herpes Labialis is also commonly referred to as oral herpes or cold sores. This is an infection of the mouth as well as the lips triggered primarily by a particular type of virus known as HSV-1 (Herpes Simplex Virus – Type 1). The virus is known to trigger painful sores not only on the lips, but tongue, cheeks, gums and palate. The condition can also appear on the neck plus face. Other symptoms commonly associated with the condition, include aching of the muscles plus fever.

The other condition which a majority of people think is commonly triggered by HSV-1 is canker sore. However, this is not the case. Canker sore appears within the mouth, tongue as well as the soft palate and not on the skin. Even though the condition may recur in some patients after a couple of years, the relapse is not contagious.

Causes and Risk Factors

Herpes simplex lesion of the lower lip
Typical cold sore

According to a recent study that was carried out by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), it was discovered that a majority of people in the US contract Herpes Labialis by the age of 20. The initial infection may not display any sign and symptom. The virus causing the disease is known to remain dormant for several years within the nerve tissues of the face. The virus may reactivate in a number of people, thus reproducing cold sores which tend to occur in the same area. However, the relapse is not as serious as some people tend to think.

In contrast to the Herpes Simplex Virus – Type 2, the condition cannot be transmitted from mother to child during birth. However, it is important to point out that the condition is quite contagious and can be transmitted from one person to the other through kissing. The condition is transmitted through physical contact. As such, people who are used to sharing personal effects such as towels, utensils (i.e. spoons and cups) and razors. Then again, the condition can be transmitted to another person through oral sex and contact sport.

The Signs and Symptoms

Most herpes infections are rarely accompanied by signs and symptoms. However, when the signs and symptoms appear, they tend to resolve in a couple of days. Unfortunately, resolving of the symptoms is not an indication of a cleared disease. The virus can stay dormant in the body for several years and can be activated by a weakening immune system. Listed below, are some of the common signs and symptoms associated with Herpes Labialis:


Inflammation is caused when the virus starts reproducing thus infecting cells and tissues that are situated at the tip of nerve. Healthy cells then react to this kind of invasion by swelling, thus causing inflammation.

This is a close-up of a 28-year old male patient’s oral cavity, revealing lesions on the interior of his upper lip, which is due to the herpes simplex virus. Photo: CDC/ Robert E. Sumpter, 1967
Herpes blister inside the mouth


Crusting usually occurs between the 5th and 8th day. More than often, patients start noticing golden crusts on their skin.

Other signs and symptoms associated with Herpes Labialis are sores and blisters on the lips and inside the mouth.

When Should You See a Doctor?

DoctorIt is important that you seek medical attention when:

– The sores on the lips and in the mouth become painful. Pain the mouth can cause difficulties in swallowing solid and liquid food. As such, dehydration is a common problem with people suffering from Herpes Labialis.

– You are not certain about the sores in your mouth and lips.

– A child aged 6 weeks and below start displaying sores in the mouth.

– Your immune system starts to weaken thus exposing you to a myriad of diseases.


Treatment of the Herpes Labialis is usually completed by administering antiviral medications. More than often, the medication is administered orally. Read more about herpes treatment.

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