I have been told that a fever blister in your mouth or on your lips is a form of herpes. Is this true? Is there anything in particular that triggers them, because I seem to get them even when I’m not sick or running a fever? I have tried lots of remedies but none seem to work. Is there a prescription medication that works best, and gets rid of them quickly?
I get these sores on the outside of my lips (not the corners of my mouth), that I think are herpes. Is there any topical treatment to reduce the swelling? It looks like I have a fat lip with a big sore. If not topical, are there any vitamins or herbs I can take to promote healing?
Herpes in and around the mouth is extremely common, with 80 to 90 percent of adults in the U.S. infected. Most of us probably get infected in childhood by our parents, since almost all of them are infected. Like all herpes viruses, the virus usually causing herpes around the mouth, Herpes I, probably lives in our bodies forever once we are infected and will periodically become active, causing herpetic sores, often called fever blisters.
The virus lives in the nerve cells that supply our lips. Because each nerve goes to a specific spot on our lips, the sores tend to always come back in exactly the same spot. This is also true of herpes on the genitals, and infected persons can tell by the slight tingling in the spot where they break out that an attack is about to begin.
I’m not sure anyone knows why some people get repeated attacks of herpes and others get them rarely, if at all. Although all of us have herpes in the mouth, most people get an outbreak only when some other event stimulates it: a high fever leading to fever blisters or a sunburned lip leading to a swollen very painful ulcer. My own theory is that since our first infection is usually in childhood we are able to suppress the activity of the virus fairly effectively, and a special stimulus is necessary to allow an outbreak.
Some adults who get through childhood without being infected may have more frequent outbreaks after they become infected as adults, since they have had fewer years to build up that immunity. Certainly in the case of genital herpes, most people become infected as adults and tend to have more recurring outbreaks for at least a few years.
I used to have a large herpes outbreak behind my right knee, which would recur once or twice a year. This went on for about six to seven years, and then stopped, and I have never had an outbreak since. My theory is that it took six to seven years for me to build up sufficient immunity in that spot to suppress further outbreaks. I still get herpes on my lip when it gets sunburned, but never behind my right knee anymore.
Several large studies have shown that people can produce live virus and infect others even when they do not have a herpes outbreak. I also firmly believe (though I don’t believe it has been proven) that one can catch herpes from inanimate objects. This is probably one of the few sexually transmitted diseases that one really can catch from toilet seats.
Both types of herpes respond very well to a drug called acyclovir (Zovirax). An acyclovir cream was also developed, and is still available, but is much less effective than taking the drug orally. Anyone who gets frequent outbreaks should ask their doctor to prescribe some acyclovir that they can keep at home, to begin with the first tinglings of an outbreak (when it is most effective). Acyclovir is very safe to take, and except in people with AIDS, does not lead to the development of resistant viruses. Two more recent variations on acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir are now available. Though probably not more effective than acyclovir, they require less frequent dosing, and therefore may be more convenient.