Facts About Oral Herpes Symptoms

Oral Herpes Symptoms Oral herpes, also known as cold sores or fever blisters, result from infection with either the herpes simplex virus 1 or herpes simplex virus 2.  Oral herpes may be referred to by its medical terminology:  herpes labialis.

Once the herpes simplex virus invades the body, it does not leave after the initial outbreak.  It travels to sensory nerve centers located at the top of the spine to remain dormant until the virus is next triggered.

It is estimated 80 to 90% of the world’s population have been exposed to the herpes simplex virus, but the majority of these do not develop symptoms.  For the minority, however, symptoms can occur once or repeatedly with varying frequency.  An oral herpes infection with sequential symptoms follows a pattern of stages and we cover oral herpes symptoms here.

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Cold Sore On LipOral Herpes Pictures


After contact with the oral herpes virus, incubation of the virus typically takes 2 to 12 days.  The average period before appearance of symptoms is 4 days.  


Prodromal means symptoms that precede the physical onset of an outbreak.  With oral herpes, prodromal symptoms are commonly burning, itching or tingling at a specific site or locations on the face.  The skin may redden in the same areas as the itching, burning and tingling.  The prodromal stage is present for anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.


During this phase, the herpes virus is actively multiplying and infecting nerve end cells.  Swelling and redness become apparent as antibodies respond to the virus’s attack.  This stage typically lasts 24 hours.  


Tiny inflammatory gray blisters or sacs form in clusters on the reddened skin.  These are solid and do not contain pus.  They may be painful to touch and itchy.  Blisters may appear on lips, the edges or corners of the lips, the chin or the skin between the upper lip and the nose.  The pre-lesion stage extends 24 to 48 hours.


Often the most painful stage of an outbreak, the tiny blisters burst to create a lesion and exude a watery fluid.  The lesion remains an open weeping sore for approximately 24 hours while blood vessels and inflamed tissue excrete liquid.

This is the most contagious stage of all among oral herpes symptoms.  Swollen lymph glands and a fever may occur with severe outbreaks.
The three days following the lesion stage hails the commencement of healing.

A yellow crust composed of blood serum proteins forms over the open lesion.  The crust may break open or split with facial movement or eating.  This can cause some pain.  Fluid will leak from cracks in the scab.  This fluid still contains the virus.


The virus returns to its dormant position at the nerve center from days 9 through 14 permitting new skin to form underneath the scab.  The scab will progressively become smaller.  Itching may return as the scab heals.

Post Scab

After the final scab has fallen off, the skin may remain red for a time until it is fully rejuvenated.  Viral shedding and contagion may still happen during this final stage  of oral  herpes symptoms.


The duration of an outbreak of oral herpes symptoms to complete healing is usually 2 weeks, but may last up to 3 weeks.

Oral herpes symptoms vary from person to person.  Some people may experience only 1 or 2 outbreaks yearly, while others have multiple episodes.  Remission between attacks can last weeks to months to years.  The same is true with the severity of symptoms.

They range from mild with a fast recovery to more severe symptoms with prolonged healing. Sharing cups, utensils, dishes, towels, pillowcases and makeup, kissing and any skin-to-skin contact whatsoever should be stringently avoided during an outbreak to prevent transmission of the oral herpes virus.

Oral herpes is highly contagious and can be transferred to any body part, including genitals, of another person during the symptomatic outbreak.  Oral herpes symptoms can vary from person to person in duration and severity, as always consult with your physician if you have any medical questions.

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