Health Guide

Oral herpes simplex

What is it?

Herpes (her-pees) simplex 1 virus (HSV-1) is also called a fever or cold blister or a cold sore. It is a common germ that causes painful blisters on the lips, gums, or mouth. Sometimes it infects the sex organs. It is possible, but not common, to get HSV-1 in the eye. You may get cold sores many times in your lifetime.


This infection is caused by a germ called a virus and spread by person-to-person contact. The blisters carry infection (in-fek-shun) until healed. Stress or being in the sun too long may cause you to have a cold sore. Medicines that lower your ability to fight infection may also cause a cold sore.

Signs and Symptoms:

You may have groups of small fluid-filled painful blisters around the mouth. These blisters may also be on the sex organs. The blisters are clear in the middle with a thin red ring around them. These blisters will usually dry up and go away within 7 days. Your eye may be red and painful if you have the virus in the eye. It may feel as though something is in your eye. Your eye may be bothered by light and may water more than usual.

Wellness Recommendations:

  • Use a sunscreen of SPV 15 or greater when in the sun.
  • Learn how to control stress in your life.
  • Eating healthy foods and exercising may help keep you from getting run down and getting cold sores.
  • Do not touch the blisters or pick at the scabs. Do not touch your eyes without washing your hands first until the blisters heal. Wash your hands often.
  • To help reduce discomfort, apply an ice cube or ice pack to your lip for 30 minutes or suck on frozen juice bars.
  • Put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Put this on the blisters to reduce swelling and to help the sores dry up. Do this for 2 minutes, 4 times a day.
  • Protect your lips from the sun by using a sunscreen when you go outdoors.
  • Avoid close contact with other people, especially kissing or oral sex, until the blisters heal. The virus that causes cold sores usually is different from the one that causes sores on the genitals. However, cold sores may occur in persons who have oral sex with a partner who has genital herpes.
  • Do not get close to babies or to people who are ill while you have cold sores.
  • You may want to use a straw because hot or cold foods may hurt your mouth. Eating a well-balanced diet will help healing.

Medical Care:

You may use acetaminophen (uh-c-tuh-min-o-fin) to decrease pain. Do NOT take aspirin. Do not put anything into your infected eye before talking to your caregiver. Other medicines may be needed to treat your cold sore. There is medicine that can shorten the course of the HSV-1 infection. For people who get HSV-1 infections often, a low dose of antiviral medicine may be used daily to prevent the infection.

Dietary Measures:

Foods that are high in lysine (meats and dairy) and low in arginine (nuts and legumes) may prevent HSV-1.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



      Complementary Therapies:

      • Hypnosis may prevent HSV-1.

      Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

      Talk to your caregiver if:

      • You would like medicine to treat herpes.
      • Your eye feels irritated or you feel like you have something in your eye.
      • You get a fever, feel achy, or see pus instead of clear fluid in the sores. These are signs of a bacterial infection.
      • You get blisters on your genitals.
      • You get new, unexplained symptoms.
      • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
      • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

      Care Agreement:

      You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


      1. Algert SJ, Stubblefield NE, Grasse BJ et al: Assessment of dietary intake of lysine and arginine in patients with herpes simplex. J Am Diet Assoc 1987; 87(11):1560-1561.

      2. Arone di Bertolino R: Psychosomatic treatment of recurrent herpes simplex. Minerva Med 1981; 72(19):1207-1212.

      3. Kneist W, Hempel B & Borelli S: Klinische Doppelblindpruefung mit Zinksulfat topisch bei Herpes labialis recidivans (German). Arzneimittelforschung 1995; 45(5):624-626.

      4. Skinner GRB, Hartley CE, Millar D et al: Possible treatment for cold sores. Br Med J 1979; 2:704.

      5. Woelbling RH & Leonhardt K: Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis. Phytomedicine 1994; 1:25-31.

      Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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