Dental Care

Herpes Mouth Sore - How To Deal With It

A virus that you contracted, usually at some early point in your life, causes herpes mouth sores

Most people are children the first time they experience an outbreak -they catch it from kissing that nasty old aunt that everybody jokes about or just from trading germs with other kids. 

You can't assume it's spread only from kissing, although that's one way.

Maybe your precious little Elspeth is playing with Junior Jones from the next block.  Junior has a little sore on his lip that he keeps picking at.  During the course of play he and Elspeth touch hands, and then Elspeth wipes her mouth.  And Elspeth is infected for life. 

Since most people have their first herpes mouth sore before they reach the age of  8, they don't remember how it ever happened. 

Whenever someone is infected with the herpes virus, it usually takes from two to twelve days before the virus breaks out.  That dormant period is called an incubation period

But just before the breakout, you will experience itching, tingling, or pain.  Possibly you'll notice that there is a small raised area on the lip.  Doctors call it the prodrome, or prodromal period, warning you that an outbreak is imminent. 

The prodrome can last a few hours or a couple days, and then you'll notice painful blisters on a base of red skin.  Once the blisters open, the sore is most contagious.  When they're open, however, they will begin to dry out and eventually crust over. 

The infected person is contagious throughout this entire process, which can last from two days to two weeks.  People consider that the risk of contagion ends when the sore is completely healed, but the skin and saliva might contain viruses for another day or so afterward. 

Someone who has a cold sore should be very careful to wash their hands if they have touched the sore area.  It is very easy to spread the virus to the nose or eyes.  It's possible to experience an outbreak on the gums or on the roof of the mouth. 

For some people, their first episode -the primary attack- is quite painful and can even involve swollen glands.  For others, the symptoms are barely noticeable; it depends on how well someone's immune system suppresses the virus.  In fact, some people are exposed to the virus but never develop an outbreak.  

Once the sore is healed, the virus retreats to the roots of nerves deep within the skin.  Periodically throughout a person's life, it will travel back up along the nerves and re-emerge as a fresh outbreak.  Usually as the years pass, the outbreaks become less severe and shorter, because the body becomes better at fighting them.

What Brings On Herpes Mouth Sores? 

Scientists have pinpointed both physical and psychological factors:

  • You've been over-tired and your body is run down.
  • Some outbreaks are associated with a woman's menstrual cycle.
  • Alcohol consumption can trigger an outbreak.
  • Exposure to bright or strong sunlight, especially resulting in sunburn.
  • Illnesses that involved a high fever.
  • Exposure to extremes of temperature.
  • Using certain steroid products, such as asthma medication.
  • Pregnant women often experience increased outbreaks.
  • Stress can lower a person's resistance to any virus.
  • Ultraviolet light has been associated with outbreaks.
  • Overall fatigue is one of the primary culprits.
  • Scientists are looking at foods that are high in arginine as possible culprits.

People have always believed that the herpes simplex virus type 1 causes a herpes mouth sore.  They feel relieved because mouth sores do not bear the same stigma as herpes genital outbreaks, which people have generally referred to as type 2. 

In reality, however, type 1 and type 2 are both capable of infecting either the lips or the genitals.  Both produce the same repetitive outbreaks throughout a person's life.  Both are contagious and can be spread not just to your play-date partners but also to your sexual partners. 

So what's the difference between type 1 and type 2?  Both viruses look the same under a microscope.  The type 1 viral outbreaks are much more frequent.  But the type 2 outbreaks are much more painful. 

How To Treat A Herpes Mouth Sore 

There are both prescription and over-the-counter remedies available, but each person responds to them based on his own body chemistry.  You can try the following:

  • Abreva is a nonprescription medication approved for cold-sore treatment by the FDA.  Start using it as soon as you notice the prodromal symptoms.

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax) is a prescription medication that slows down the spread of the virus so that your body has time to fight it.  Children over 6 years of age can take it.

  • Valocyclovir (Valtrex), also available only by prescription, can be used in children ages 12 and over. 

  • Famciclovir (Famvir) has been used successfully in people who have immune system problems. 

  • Avoid sunlight exposure and use sun block.

  • Keep your skin moisturized, by drinking plenty of water on a daily basis, using moisturizers, and avoiding extremes of heat.

  • Build up your system by consuming lots of fruits and vegetables regularly.

  • People who have lots of stress and experience repeated outbreaks of a herpes mouth sore often get better by practicing various relaxation techniques or seek counseling

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