Table of Contents
- What Are Herpes?
- Who Can Get Herpes?
- Different Type of Herpes
- The Different Stages of Herpes
- Symptoms of Herpes
- Canker Sores vs. Herpes
- Herpes On The Tongue
- How Do You Contract Herpes?
- Is There A Link Between Herpes and HIV?
- Is There A Cure? How Do You Treat It?
- Medical Treatment
- When Should You See A Medical Professional
- Medical Testing For Herpes
- Can You Prevent Herpes?
- Living With Herpes
“Well, at least it’s not herpes. Or do you have that as well?” (Pitch Perfect, 2012)
Leave it to Fat Amy, the endearingly honest character from the hit movie, “Pitch Perfect” to bring up the dreaded question. And let’s face it – herpes are no fun. You might be picturing the more commonly known form of herpes that are contracted in the genital are, but there is another type that causes sores and blisters in and around your mouth and on your tongue that are incredibly painful and hazardous to your health and even those around you.
Further Reading: Check out our full guide on how to get rid of bad breath.
What Are Herpes?
First, let’s discuss what exactly are herpes. Herpes are little, pimple-like sores that break open and leave shallow ulcers that are painful enough that eating and drinking can cause pain. These sores can appear on the lips, around the mouth and on the tongue, although the tongue is an unusual place for the sores to appear. The sores can also look like red bumps filled with water. These will eventually break down, crust over and form a scab. Talk about gross!
Who Can Get Herpes?
Anyone from the age of infancy to elderly can get herpes. However one in six people will contract the virus between 15 to 30 years of age.
Different Type of Herpes
As I mentioned in the beginning, there are two different types of herpes. One that you can get in the genital area and one that you get around the mouth. Known to doctors by their proper name, Herpes Simplex Virus, there are two different types that are identified.
Herpes Simplex Virus, Type-1: Also known as Herpes-1, this one causes 80% of oral herpes infections.
Herpes Simplex Virus, Tybe-2: Also known as Herpes-2, this one causes the rest of herpes, or genital herpes.
The Different Stages of Herpes
Herpes are a type of virus, and like many viruses, they have many stages of infections as they manifest.
Herpes Primary Infection Stage
In this primary stage, the virus is first entered into your system through your skin or mucous membrane and multiplies. Typically at this stage, you begin to experience the first symptoms such as fevers and mouth sores.
Now that the virus has entered your system, it moves along the nerve pathways to the spine and set up a “home” in an area doctors call the “dorsal root ganglion.” The virus will grow without causing any initial problems until it becomes inactive or dormant. The virus will stay like this for many years.
Herpes can pop up if you are faced with a stressful situation. Stress on our minds and bodies will have a way of reacting in weird ways. Herpes will manifest its symptoms under stressful situations. Herpes can also “wake up” if there are other factors like exposure to ultraviolet light, getting a fever, being physically tired, and changes in hormone levels.
This is the time period in which the herpes settle into your system after contact. Usually, the amount of time between first contact with the virus and appearance of symptoms is 2-12 days, although most people average around 4. The total time the illness lasts is 2-3 weeks.
Symptoms of Herpes
Most of the time, herpes symptoms can be extremely unpleasant. Typically pain, burning, tingling, or itching occurs at the infection site before the sores appear. Clusters of blisters appear, which will break down rapidly and will emerge as tiny, shallow, gray ulcers on a red base. A few days later they scab and become dry with a yellow tinge.
Sores can also extend to the back of the throat, and down the chin and neck. Gums may also be mildly swollen and bleed. Sometimes, neck lymph nodes can swell up and become painful.
Other symptoms include fevers, fatigue, muscle aches and irritability.
Most people who contract herpes don’t always display symptoms, or have very mild symptoms. You may not notice the symptoms because they can be explanations for something else, such as a pimple or ingrown hair. This is considered a dormant illness, in which the herpes are in your system, but can emerge in specific situations such as the loss of a loved one, the break-up of a marriage, or other stressful periods.
It is still possible to spread herpes if your symptoms are dormant, so remember to use protection and get regular check ups!
Canker Sores vs. Herpes
It can be easy to confuse canker sores with herpes. The difference is canker sores form when there is something inside the mouth that is irritating the area. They do not spread to the outside of the mouth and they are not contagious. Be sure to know the difference of symptoms between herpes and canker sores.
Herpes On The Tongue
Getting herpes on your tongue is an unusual way of reacting to herpes, but not unheard of. Tongue herpes results in getting pimples and irritated, swollen looking taste buds.
Some people who have contracted herpes on their tongue report the herpes began on the tip, beginning as a little white speck and eventually growing into quarter sized patch of white blisters.
Unfortunately, getting herpes on your tongue is one of the most painful reactions to herpes. They are difficult to get rid of because they can be irritated so easily by eating, drinking, licking lips or brushing your tongue against your teeth.
It also makes eating and drinking painful. It’s not only is it recommended to drink cold water throughout the day, but it’s also important to get it checked out and medicated as soon as possible. The sooner you treat it, the sooner it will go away.
How Do You Contract Herpes?
Since herpes is an STD, it’s not too hard to imagine how it’s caught. Most instances, it is through sex. Since we’re discussing oral herpes in this article, we’ll focus on how easy it is for someone to catch herpes, whether or not they are sexually active individuals.
The more commonly known form of contracting herpes is through oral sex. Unfortunately, oral herpes are highly contagious and can be spread through more than just sexual activities. Oral herpes can be spread through kissing, using shared items such as toothbrushes and dinner utensils.
This also makes it easy for babies to get herpes. Parents or loved ones may kiss an infant on the cheek, unknowingly sharing their virus with the child.
Is There A Link Between Herpes and HIV?
The sores that develop from the virus can bleed. When the sores come in contact with the mouth, vagina, or rectum during sex, they increase the risk of giving or getting HIV if you or your partner has HIV.
Is There A Cure? How Do You Treat It?
There is no known cure for herpes. Unfortunately, once it’s in your system, it’s impossible to get out. The virus lies inactive in the nerve cells until stress or something else triggers it to become active again.
The best doctors can do for treating herpes is relieving the symptoms. Various medications can relieve you of the symptoms so that you can carry on with your normal routines. Once you begin treating the sores and blisters can take up to several weeks to heal. Just don’t forget to be careful in the future who you are sharing your germs with!
Most cases of herpes are treatable at home. You can use acetaminophen, (Feverall, Panadol, Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Excedrin, iburin, Advil, and Motrin) to relieve muscle aches and fevers. If you are prescribed a pain medication, be sure to use them as instructed by your doctor. Overdosing on pain medication can lead to other serious medical problems.
It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids. Drinking and eating can be bothersome when you have painful sores in and around your mouth. Some people can have sores that are so painful they eat and drink less and risk themselves for dehydration.
Keeping up with your dental hygiene can be difficult as well with herpes. Certain toothpastes can be irritable to the sores in your mouth. This is because some toothpastes contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which is an irritating agent to the sores. Be sure to read the ingredients label for this chemical before purchasing a new tube.
The recommended toothpaste to use is TheraBreath Toothpaste. It’s gentle cleansing doesn’t irritate the sores. If you also use a mouth rinse, you can buy the matching TheraBreath mouth rinse.
Some people with the virus may need some help relieve the symptoms when they become extreme. Doctors will prescribe an anesthetic such as viscous lidocaine (dilcaine, nervocaine, xylocaine, or zilactin-L) to relieve pain. Other drugs can be used to decrease the pain related to the outbreak and shorten the healing time. It can also decrease the total number of outbreaks. These drugs include Famvir, Zovirax, and Valtrex.Some of these treatments can be taken daily, and it will make it less likely for you to pass on the virus to your partner.
When Should You See A Medical Professional
Most of the time it isn’t necessary to go to the doctors for herpes. Doctors can recognize it pretty easily. The only cases when it is important to get it checked out is if you are suffering from dehydration or you have a weakened immune system.
Our immune systems protect us from infections and fights infections for us. It can be pretty disastrous if our immune systems aren’t working properly. The herpes infection can spread beyond the mouth, chin and neck areas and into other areas such as our organs.
It’s also important to take a child to the doctor if you believe they have contracted herpes. Children, especially infants, can’t fight off diseases and viruses as well as adults and it could potentially become life-threatening.
Medical Testing For Herpes
Doctors will give you a full diagnosis based on a physical examination, but generally the characteristic sores leave little room for doubt. Unless you are showing no symptoms, further testing is not necessary.
However, if you do require a definite diagnosis for situations in which you believe it may affect your organs, the doctor may conduct laboratory tests. A biopsy procedure may be conducted, in which the doctors remove a sample of a sore to identify the virus.
A Tzanck Smear may also be done. This is used to determine whether skin lesions are cause by the herpes virus. A sore is scraped at in the procedure and they smear the contents onto a slide. The slide is then stained and viewed under a microscope.
Blood studies are also another way for doctors to determine herpes.
Can You Prevent Herpes?
It is possible to prevent contracting herpes. Ways to prevent it are to use protection during sex, or to not have sex whatsoever. If you are sexually active however, you can lower your chances in getting herpes by being in a long-term, monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD results. Other prevention tactics you can do is avoid touching saliva, skin, or mucous membranes that have noticeable sores.
Using a latex condom can also lower your chances in getting herpes but not always. It is still possible however to get the virus with the condom, but your chances are not as likely.
If you have herpes the best way to not spread it is to avoid sharing drinks, toothbrushes, dinner utensils, kissing, or other saliva involved tools and activities.
Living With Herpes
The initial contact with herpes can seem scary at first. And the knowledge that it never truly goes away can certainly be frightening. But millions of people have learned to live with it. You can take comfort in knowing you are not alone with this virus. Watch out for the symptoms, exercise precaution, and don’t forget to tell your partners about the risk involved.