What is Herpes Labialis?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Herpes labialis are cold sores, small lesions that develop around the mouth. These blisters are caused by the herpes simplex virus, which usually resolves within seven to ten days without the need for treatment.


Symptoms do not present immediately after infection with herpes simplex virus and cold sores emerge some time later. People usually experience a tingling or burning sensation around areas of the mouth, which is followed by the appearance of small blisters, usually at the edge of the lower lip.

Once a person is infected, the virus may remain dormant or inactive for some time. Certain trigger factors such as fatigue, stress or menstruation can lead to an outbreak of cold sores. In some people, these cold sores recur around two or three times every year, while other people only experience a cold sore once and never again.

Causes of herpes labialis

Herpes labialis is so named because the cold sore typically affect the affects the lips. The infection is usually caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) but occasionally, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is responsible. The HSV-2 infection is usually transmitted through having oral sex with someone who has a genital herpes infection. In genital herpes, painful blisters develop in and around the groin.

Treatment of herpes labialis

Cold sores usually resolve independently within ten days but antiviral creams can be bought over the counter to help ease symptoms and accelerate healing. The antiviral agent should be applied as soon as symptoms first present (e.g. when tingling is felt around the mouth) because the treatment is not effective if applied after this initial stage. Cold sore patches containing hydrocolloid gel can also help to heal skin wounds. For severe cases of herpes labialis, antiviral tablets may be prescribed.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Sep 16, 2014

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