Herpes simplex, also called oral herpes or herpes labialis, is an infection in the lips, mouth or gums, caused by a virus. The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) causes small cold sores on the lips or fever blisters in the mouth, which can be painful. Oral herpes symptoms can be mild or severe, and it may include the cold sores or fever blisters along with itching, burning or tingling of the lips or skin around the mouth. Other symptoms may include sore throat, fever, swollen glands or difficulty swallowing. There are often triggers for a herpes simplex outbreak, such as stress, illness, fever, sun exposure or menstruation.

After the first infection of HSV-1, some people get mouth ulcers within one to three weeks. In other cases, the virus becomes dormant in the facial nerve tissue and later reactivates to cause the cold sores. A person may not exhibit any symptoms for years. Oral herpes is a very common infection. Most people get it as an infant or child; by the age of 20, most people in the United States have been infected with this virus. It spreads very easily, through personal contact such as touching, kissing and sharing items such as razors, towels and dishes. Most cold sores are caused by HSV-1.

How can herpes simplex be treated?

There is no cure for herpes simplex. The good news is that sores often clear without treatment. Many people choose to treat herpes simplex because treatment can relieve symptoms and shorten an outbreak. Most people are treated with an antiviral medicine. An antiviral cream or ointment can relieve the burning, itching, or tingling. An antiviral medicine that is oral shortens an outbreak of herpes.