Oral herpes is the same virus that causes fever blisters and cold sores. After you contract the virus for the very first time, usually as a child, from saliva you shared with some other little kid doing things little kids do, you might get a nasty fever blister and a fever, or the virus might just retreat into the nerves underlying your cheekbones.
Years or even decades later, something sends a signal to that virus that its home in your nervous system is under attack and it needs to escape. That could be a blow to the face, another viral infection, treatment with a steroid asthma inhaler or with chemotherapy, or, most often of all, a burn from sunburn or drinking something that’s too hot. Exposure to storm-force wind and extreme cold will also activate the virus.
The herpesvirus multiplies very quickly and travels to your mouth and lips to be transmitted to another host. When your immune system recognizes the infection, it will cause a blister to kill the tissue where the virus lives, something it cannot do with nerves.
What does oral herpes look like? The skin of your lips or the lining of your mouth will redden and then from an oozing blister. But if you stop the infection before your immune system starts the blister, then you may have no disagreeable symptoms at all.
That’s why is it important to recognize oral herpes inside the mouth. Here are three things you need to know about the symptoms that occur before you get blisters that tell you to get treatments that can stop the attack.
- Anywhere from two hours to two days before the blister forms, you will probably feel tingling, burning, or itching as the early stages of oral herpes.
- If you have recurrent outbreaks, and you get a blister in the same place every time, it’s probably oral herpes. If it “moves around,” it’s probably something else.
- If you get a blister, don’t pick at it, and don’t let it dry out.
This is the time you need to be taking an antiviral medication to stop the virus from multiplying so your immune system will not have to attack your lips or the lining of your mouth to kill it. Your doctor or dentist can prescribe the treatment for you.
The herpesvirus has to travel along a nerve to escape the body, so it will come out at the same place every time. Other kinds of mouth sores causes erupt in different places.
Don’t pick at blisters, even after they have formed scabs and don’t hurt any more. Tearing the skin forms an entryway for other kinds of infections. If you want to loosen a scab without tearing the skin of your lip, soak a cotton ball in fresh milk. Hold the cotton ball against the scab to loosen it. The lactic acids in milk are also used in exfoliant creams for other kinds of skin care.
Drying out the skin lets germs in, too. Cover a blister with petroleum jelly, and don’t use any makeup you don’ have to, taking special care to avoid products that contain alcohol or fragrances, which can dry out the skin. If you have to cover up the blister for a meeting, be sure to remove makeup as soon as possible, with warm water and mild cleanser, to prevent drying of the skin and further irritation of the sore.