Herpes Labialis

What is herpes labialis?

Herpes labialis is a viral condition which causes vesicles or blisters on the lip or face. This condition is also known as oral herpes or cold sores. It is caused by a herpes simplex virus. It can affect people of all ages. It may be spread by physical contact and sharing saliva, and is very contagious. Other symptoms include pain, tingling or an itch at the site of the blister. It is often recurrent, especially at times of stress or a weakened immune system. Some people use anti-viral salves to prevent spreading and to treat the virus, but the blisters will usually resolve on their own.


Herpes labialis is caused by virus called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus is carried in the blister and saliva. The virus most commonly affects the lips but can be spread to other parts of the body. The herpes simplex virus is very common. People who have a family member or close contact to someone who has herpes labialis are at increased risk of catching the herpes simplex virus. Other factors that may make a person susceptible to the virus or a recurrence of symptoms are a weakened immune system, stress or another viral infections (such as a cold or flu). Healthcare workers and athletes in contact sports may also be more likely to catch the herpes simplex virus.


The typical symptoms of herpes labialis are an itching or tingling at the site of the blisters, followed by painful blisters near the mouth/lips. These blisters develop into crusted sores. The symptoms may last up to two weeks. At the first time a person experiences herpes labialis, the blisters may be very painful. These may be accompanied by fever, muscle pain, and swelling of the lymph nodes in the face and neck.


The diagnosis is usually based on the symptoms and the appearance of the blister. Testing fluid from the blister for the herpes virus can confirm the diagnosis.


In mild cases, when there are few blisters and the affected person is otherwise well, treatment may consist of anti-viral salves. Some tablets are also available to help prevent an outbreak of the blisters. Severe or complicated cases need anti-viral medication intravenously (through a drip).


Avoiding skin contact with affected people helps to prevent catching the herpes virus (for example, parents should avoid kissing their children while they have a herpes lesion). Herpes labialis can also be passed to body parts other than the lips. Good hygiene, such as washing hands, can also help to prevent spreading the herpes virus.

Other names for herpes labialis

  • Cold sores
  • Herpes labialis
  • Herpes simplex labialis
  • Oral herpes
  • Orofacial herpes
  • Orolabial herpes infection