Many people are aware that the herpes virus can cause irritating cold sores to form on your lips, but did you know that sores can also appear elsewhere in your mouth? Herpes on the tongue often appears as painful gray and red blisters on the tip of the tongue, Ending AIDS explains.
What Causes Herpes on the Tongue?
Oral herpes is caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus and can appear on the tongue, lips, cheeks, gums and roof of the mouth. Other areas like the throat, the inside of the nose, the chin and the neck may also be affected.
Herpes is highly contagious and can easily be acquired by having your skin come in contact with the virus. It is often unknowingly transmitted to children by a kiss from an adult family member. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 50 to 80 percent of adults in the United States have oral herpes, even though they may have never experienced any symptoms.
What Are the Stages of Oral Herpes?
According to Ending AIDS, there are three stages of an oral herpes infection, regardless of where it appears in the oral cavity.
- Primary infection. This stage occurs when the virus comes into contact with your skin or mucous membranes and begins to reproduce. During this time, the Mayo Clinic notes that the herpes infection may cause symptoms, such as a fever, muscle aches or gum pain. Before the sores appear, you may experience burning, tingling or itching in that area. Most often, however, there are no symptoms, and you are unaware that you have been infected.
- Latency. During this second stage, the virus moves from the original site of infection to the bundles of nervous tissue in your spine called the dorsal root ganglia. The virus reproduces again and then goes dormant.
- Recurrence. Herpes reoccurs when a trigger like emotional or physical stress causes the herpes virus to reactivate.
How to Prevent Oral Herpes
Oral herpes has no known cure, so prevention is the best way to protect yourself from the lifelong effects of this virus. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, when someone has an active sore, it is best to avoid physical contact because of the risk of transmission. Saliva, mucous membranes and skin all carry active viral components that can infect others. Occasionally, herpes can be actively spread even when the afflicted person does not have any symptoms, which is one of the primary reasons why so many people are infected.
Care and Treatment of Oral Herpes
Herpes on the tongue typically does not require medical care, but sores can cause quite a bit of discomfort. If the pain is severe enough to interfere with eating and drinking, the affected person should be careful to avoid dehydration. A physician can prescribe a topical anesthetic like lidocaine to provide pain relief. Signs and symptoms of the infection typically last (and gradually improve) over two to three weeks.
If you are unsure if your sores are part of a herpes infection, do not hesitate to call your physician. If a baby younger than 8 weeks old or a person with a compromised immune system is infected, contact a health care professional immediately since severe complications are possible.
Ending AIDS suggests taking a mild pain reliever if sores are bothersome and avoiding spicy or salty foods that may irritate the area. Another home care option is rinsing with warm salt water to keep the affected area clean and aid in the healing process. Finally, make sure you stay well-hydrated while an infection is underway.