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Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis

Recurrent Herpes Simplex Labialis

What is it?

Recurrent herpes simplex labialis is a mouth infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus. It is a contagious and common infection that can easily be passed on. Also known as oral herpes, recurrent herpes simplex labialis causes sores and blisters on the lips, tongue, mouth, and gums. After the first infection, the virus stays inactive in the nerve cells of the face. The virus will then be reactivated once triggered; thus, will result in the formation of sores. This condition is going to be recurrent once it occurs. These sores are commonly referred to as cold sores.

Recurrent herpes simplex labialis is not serious most of the time, but relapses are very common.

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What causes recurrent herpes simplex labialis?

The condition is caused by the herpes simplex virus, specifically the type 1 (HSV-1). The first infection often occurs before 20 years of age. It commonly affects the area around the mouth and the lips. The virus can be acquired through direct contact with a person who has the virus. Oral herpes can also be contracted by touching objects such as utensils, towels, razors, or anything where the virus is present.

The virus can live inside the body for as long as it wants and it is harmless during those times. However, when the virus is triggered, it can lead to a recurrent herpes infection. The factors that can trigger recurrent infections include:

  • Fever
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Extreme temperature
  • Recent dental surgery
  • Menstruation
  • Fatigue
  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Compromised immune system

Signs and Symptoms 

The first infection may or may not cause any symptoms. If it does cause symptoms, blisters may come out around the mouth one to three weeks after first contact with the virus. These can last up to three weeks. Most of the time, future outbreaks are milder than the first infection.

The symptoms of recurrent herpes simplex labialis are:

  • Sores on the lips, mouth, nose, tongue, and gums
  • Itching or tingling on or near the lips
  • Burning pain on the blisters
  • Sores that appear and grow together
  • Red and inflamed blisters

The tingling on or near the lips acts as a warning sign that means that the cold sores are about to re-appear in a couple of days.


Doctors are able to diagnose recurrent herpes simplex labialis just by examining the sores and blisters on the face. To further check and confirm their diagnosis, a sample of the blister will be obtained and will be sent to the laboratory to test for HSV-1.


Getting rid of the virus is impossible. Once you have the virus, it will remain in the body for the rest of your life. The symptoms can go away within a week or two without treatment. Before the sores disappear, they will scab and crust over first.

The application of ice on the sores, as well as taking acetaminophen can help with the pain. Oral antiviral drugs such as acyclovir and famciclovir may be prescribed by the doctor to fight against the virus. The antiviral medicines work best if they are taken before the sores start to appear. However, these drugs don’t cure herpes and will not be able to stop the spread of the virus to other people.