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What is Facial Herpes?

By Ashley Farris
Updated May 17, 2024
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Herpes simplex virus type 1, known as facial herpes, causes outbreaks of cold sores and blisters in and around the mouth, eyes and throat. It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of the population has the facial herpes virus. Of course, facial herpes differs from genital herpes, which is herpes simplex virus type 2.

Facial herpes is contracted through close contact with an infected person, namely kissing and hugging. Most commonly, children between the ages of 3 and 5 are infected because of their close contact with caregivers and other children. In adults, type 1 herpes can be contracted through sharing drinking and eating utensils or performing oral sex on a partner who has genital herpes.

An initial outbreak is called primary herpes and usually occurs within three weeks of infection. In children, type 1 herpes might present with sores on the gums, throat or lips. Discomfort also might occur, but it often is minimal. After an outbreak has diminished, the virus remains and can be expected to recur. Recurring outbreaks, however, will become less frequent and can be treated easily.

Only one in three people show symptoms of herpes upon initial infection. Initial signs of herpes simplex virus type 1 can be limited to sore throat or fever and are often mistaken for symptoms of the common cold. Itching and swollen lymph nodes are also indicators of an outbreak. After the original outbreak, recurrences will affect those who contract facial herpes. The symptoms become less severe with time, and outbreaks happen less frequently.

Facial herpes symptoms are effectively treated with antiviral prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and natural remedies, though there is no permanent cure or treatment for the virus. Children experiencing oral pain from infection can be treated with pain relieving mouthwash. Antiviral topical creams are available, as are oral medications. Natural supplements such as echinacea, zinc, L-lysine and aloe vera also have been shown to subdue symptoms.

There are several factors that affect the occurrence, severity and treatment of type 1 herpes. Recurrence diminishes greatly with age, so treatment of facial herpes will be required less over time. Trauma, menstruation, fever, the cold and flu season and the overall health of the immune system also can have significant effects on the virus. Each of these elements can increase the likelihood of subsequent outbreaks.

Type 1 herpes rarely results in any infection other than facial herpes. It occasionally can cause herpes simplex virus encephalitis, meningitis or herpes of the eye. These afflictions are rare but serious. If increasingly serious symptoms are experienced, beyond superficial sores and discomfort, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Preventing type 1 herpes is important, because the spread of type 1 can occur very easily. Avoiding contact with those who have visible symptoms is the most important step. Those with an outbreak must refrain from sharing utensils, hugging and kissing or having close contact with others. Infected persons also wash their clothes and bedding well, avoid using harsh soaps on the skin and avoid picking at any visible scabs or sores.

Herpes can be transmitted even when a carrier is not experiencing an outbreak. Symptoms do not occur in all carriers, so it can be difficult to ensure a lack of contact with infected persons. It is therefore crucial to heed all precautionary measures, especially when coming into contact with children.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Mar 30, 2014

I used to get cold sores several times a year. It was usually due to cold weather, stress or a fever. Ever since I started taking lysine supplements however, the cold sores have disappeared. Whenever I feel the tingling sensation that always occurs before a blister develops, I start a high dose of lysine supplements. If I take them on time, the supplements prevent the blister from developing.

By turquoise — On Mar 29, 2014

@ysmina-- Yes, herpes type 2 can cause blisters on and around the mouth. But this type of herpes is usually characterized by blisters on the genitals. Facial herpes mostly refers to cold sores, which occur due to herpes type 1.

Someone with herpes type 2 may develop blisters on the face but this is rare and usually a result of performing oral sex on someone with herpes type as the article said. Those who develop a single blister on the lip have herpes type 1. Herpes type 1 is very common and affects many Americans.

By ysmina — On Mar 29, 2014

Doesn't herpes type 2, that is genital herpes, also cause blisters on the face?

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