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First Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Women

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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.

Get Started Here

65% of women in the United States have detectable oral herpes antibodies by the time they reach age 40. It’s one of the most common viral infections in the world. In addition to being transmitted through oral sex, oral herpes can be transmitted through infected saliva. Today, we’re helping women spot the first signs and symptoms of oral herpes.

The First Signs and Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Women

The symptoms of oral herpes in women are generally easy to spot. Oral herpes comes in the form of cold sores, which are blisters that coalesce into a larger blister. Some of the initial early symptoms of oral herpes in women include:

  • Mild or severe itching of the mouth or lips
  • Sores or blisters on the lips or inside of the mouth
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pains
  • General soreness and joint pain throughout your body

The first symptoms of oral herpes in women start to appear 2 to 12 days after the initial date of exposure. However, if your body is not currently experiencing an outbreak, then you may notice no symptoms of oral herpes. This is why many people don’t realize that they have oral herpes.

In general, your first outbreak of oral herpes should last about 7 to 10 days. Further outbreaks will also lead to blisters and sores. These blisters and sores are less severe, but can often be more painful. Outbreaks can last up to 14 days.

How is Oral Herpes Transmitted?

Oral herpes is typically transmitted through contact with infected saliva. Approximately 40% of cases – particularly in younger adults – involve transmission through oral sex.

Oral herpes, like genital herpes, is caused by the herpes simplex virus, or HSV. There are two types of HSV, including HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both types are linked to oral herpes. However, 80% of oral herpes cases are linked to HSV-1, while only 20% of cases are linked to HSV-2. Typically, when someone is referring to oral herpes, they’re referring to an infection with HSV-1.

HSV-1 and HSV-2 have similar names. They also have similar symptoms – both cause sores and blisters on either your mouth or your genitals. However, the two viruses have distinctly different DNA.

Regardless of which virus you have, the virus will enter your skin or mucous membrane to begin the infection. Typically, the virus enters through small cracks or breaks in your skin. The virus will reproduce inside your body. After the virus has reproduced a certain number of times, symptoms like fevers or blisters may start to appear.

After the initial outbreak is over, the herpes virus will stay dormant in your facial nerve tissue. The virus can reactivate itself at a later date. There is no cure for herpes.

General Symptoms of Oral Herpes in Women

The most recognizable symptoms of oral herpes are blisters and cold sores. As the disease reproduces inside your body, however, symptoms can become more severe. Here are some of the general symptoms of oral herpes in women:

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

In rare cases, oral herpes can also lead to sores on your nose or fingers. Some women also report infections on their eyelid or eyeball.

The important thing to remember about oral herpes in women is that oral herpes does not always show symptoms. When an outbreak occurs, you may notice the symptoms above. However, between outbreaks, you may notice virtually no symptoms whatsoever.

Typically, the first oral herpes outbreak will take place 2 to 12 days after initial exposure, with the outbreak lasting for 7 to 10 days. After that, further outbreaks can cause painful, but less severe, blisters and sores that last up to 14 days.

What to Do If You Think You Have Oral Herpes

If you believe you have oral herpes, it’s important to visit a doctor to confirm that diagnosis. Some people mistake canker sores for oral herpes, for example.

A doctor can typically identify oral herpes with a brief physical examination. However, for confirmation, a doctor may collect a sample from your sore. After a diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor may recommend antiviral medication to limit symptoms and reduce the severity of symptoms.

Most women will not need to contact their doctor every time they experience an oral herpes outbreak. However, women with weakened immune systems should contact their doctor during an outbreak. These women are more likely to experience serious health complications related to an oral herpes outbreak.

During an outbreak, it’s crucial that you drink lots of water. Oral herpes and other viruses can lead to dehydration, which could force you to go to the hospital.

There’s no cure for herpes. However, various treatments are available. A doctor may prescribe topical anesthetics like lidocaine to relieve the pain. Those with a weakened immune system may also be instructed to take oral or IV medication.

Frequently Asked Questions About Oral Herpes in Women

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

How can I reduce my chances of an oral herpes infection? To reduce your chances of contracting oral herpes, avoid touching saliva, skin, or mucous membranes that have sores.

How long do outbreaks last? An oral herpes outbreak (the visible sores on your lips and mouth) can last anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks.

When do outbreaks re-occur? Outbreaks re-occur in the future, typically in stressful situations.

Do most people have herpes? Most people have been infected by at least one type of herpes virus before they reach adulthood. This is particularly evident in the United States, where upwards of 65% of women and men aged 40 and older have detectable herpes antibodies in their blood.

How do I control oral herpes symptoms at home? Drink plenty of fluids during an outbreak. Use medication to control your fever. Take pain medication as instructed by your doctor. If symptoms and outbreaks are severe and frequent, talk to your doctor about a topical anesthetic.

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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