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First Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Men

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Oral herpes does not always show symptoms. There is no cure for oral or genital herpes yet, but there are treatment options available. Get tested today if you think you may have been exposed.

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Oral herpes, or herpes of the mouth, is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can cause painful sores all over the mouth area – including anywhere from the roof of your mouth to your neck. Today, we’re explaining the signs and symptoms of oral herpes in men, including the methods a doctor may use to treat your condition after a positive diagnosis.

The First Signs and Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Men

Many men have oral herpes with no visible signs of infection.

Oral herpes is particularly prevalent in the United States. Approximately 65% of the US adult population has detectable antibodies to HSV-1 by age 40. However, not all men with oral herpes will develop noticeable symptoms.

Men that do develop symptoms of oral herpes may notice oral sores and blisters. These symptoms appear during the early stages of the infection. Overall, the most common first signs and symptoms of oral herpes in men include:

  • Mild or severe itching of the mouth or lips
  • Sores or blisters on the lips or interior of the mouth
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pains, or general soreness and joint pain throughout the body

The first symptoms of oral herpes in men start to appear 2 to 12 days after the initial date of exposure. Typically, the first outbreak of oral herpes involves mild or severe blisters in or around the mouth, on the tongue, or around the lips. You can expect the outbreak to last about 7 to 10 days.

Further outbreaks can cause painful, but less severe, blisters and sores, with outbreaks lasting up to 14 days.

How is Oral Herpes Transmitted?

There are two types of herpes simplex viruses, including HSV-1 and HSV-2. These two viruses have similar symptoms, but have distinctly different DNA.

The two viruses are similar because they both cause oral and genital lesions. However, approximately 80% of oral herpes cases are linked to HSV-1, with only 20% of cases being linked to HSV-2. At the same time, 20% of genital herpes cases are linked to HSV-1, while 80% of genital herpes cases are linked to HSV-2.

Oral herpes can be transmitted through oral sex. However, less than half of all oral herpes infections are transmitted through oral sex. Most infections occur due to contacting infected saliva, mucous membranes, or skin.

The virus enters the skin or mucous membrane, typically through small cracks or breaks. At this point, the virus begins to reproduce. This is when the first symptoms – like fever or blisters – may start to appear.

Once the oral herpes virus is in your body, the herpes virus stays dormant in the facial nerve tissue. The virus can reactivate itself at a later date, which is when you’ll notice cold sores or fever blisters appear.

General Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Men

We mentioned the early symptoms of oral herpes up above. As the disease progresses, the symptoms of oral herpes can become more severe.

The early common symptoms of oral herpes include:

  • Mild or severe itching of the mouth or lips
  • Sores, blisters, and scabs on the lips or inside the mouth
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpit, or groin
  • Body aches and pains

Less common symptoms include sores or blisters on your nose or fingers, or an infection of the eyelid or eyeball.

Overall, oral herpes does not always show symptoms. When it does show symptoms, the most common symptoms are cold sores or fever blisters in the mouth or on or around the lips.

The first outbreak may appear 2 to 12 days after initial exposure, and will last for around 7 to 10 days. After that, further outbreaks can cause painful, but less severe, blisters and sores lasting up to 14 days.

When considering the symptoms of oral herpes in men, it’s important to recognize the difference between herpes’ cold sores and canker sores. Oral herpes and canker sores are both sores found in the mouth. However, canker sores are not caused by the herpes simplex virus. Cold sores form as multiple tiny blisters which later join together. Canker sores, meanwhile, appear as reddened raised areas that develop into larger sores. Cold sores also tend to appear on the roof and gums of the mouth or the lips, while canker sores appear on the inside of the lip or cheek.

Once you have oral herpes, you have the virus for life. Symptoms of the virus can reoccur when you encounter certain emotional or physical stressors. At this point, the virus will reactivate and symptoms will start to reappear.

What to Do If You Think You Have Oral Herpes

There is no cure for oral herpes. However, doctors can recommend antiviral treatment methods that can reduce outbreaks and the severity of the pain caused by cold sores. Antiviral medicine can reduce the length of outbreaks and lessen their symptoms.

You don’t have to call your doctor every time you have an oral herpes outbreak. However, you should talk to your doctor if you’re uncertain what your sores are. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor may recommend antiviral medicine.

Topical anesthetics may also be prescribed to relieve pain. Doctors will also recommend drinking lots of fluid during an outbreak.

Doctors will base their diagnosis on information you provide, as well as a physical examination. Herpes sores have a distinctive appearance, and it won’t take long for a doctor to make a diagnosis.

However, to confirm a diagnosis, doctors may take a sample from the sores, then test that sample for signs of the virus.

Certain men should call their doctor whenever sores appear. Someone with a weakened immune system, for example, should call their doctor during a herpes outbreak. These people are more likely to develop severe infections or disease complications.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oral Herpes in Men

Take Charge of Your Health

Oral herpes does not always show symptoms. There is no cure for oral or genital herpes yet, but there are treatment options available. Get tested today if you think you may have been exposed.

Get Started Here

Do most men get oral herpes through sex? Typically, about 40% of young adults get oral herpes through oral sex. The incident rate drops as you get older. In all age groups, you’re more likely to receive oral herpes through other methods – like any transmission of infected saliva – than through oral sex.

Can I manage oral herpes symptoms at home? You can manage oral herpes treatments at home using acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and muscle aches. Talk to your doctor for other methods.

About Monica Silva

Monica Silva graduated from University of Michigan School of Public Health studying health behavior and health education. She is passionate about improving access to sexual and reproductive health care, and addressing gender-based violence. She was involved in reproductive health advocacy and the creation of Youth Friendly Pharmacies that provide a wide spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services.

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