Herpes of the lip, also called oral herpes, results in a fever blister or cold sore that erupts around your mouth. The herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) that causes herpes on the lip is very common and is nothing that should cause you shame or embarrassment--aside from the fact that cold sores can affect your cosmetic appearance until they heal. There's no true cure for herpes on your lip, but there are ways to treat these painful, watery blisters.
What Causes Herpes on the Lip?
The HSV-1 that causes you to get a herpes outbreak on your lip is inadvertently passed along from one person to another through direct contact--sometimes an innocent kiss or face-to-face contact. The American Social Health Association (ASHA) estimates that about half of the adult population in the United States has oral herpes, and by age 50, around 90 percent will have it. Once you are infected, HSV-1 is always present in your body, residing in the trigeminal ganglia at the top of your spine, where it "sleeps" until the virus activates and causes an outbreak around your mouth or on your face. Around 75 percent of people exposed to HSV-1 will have one fever blister or cold sore and never experience an outbreak again. Most people get HSV-1 when they are children.
Treating Oral Herpes
Cold sores, or fever blisters, usually resolve on their own between seven and 10 days, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, while they are present, they can be painful and irritating. There are creams and ointments that numb the skin, but ASHA cautions that these might delay the healing process. According to ASHA, over-the-counter topical medication Abreva is approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to help heal herpes of the lip.
More Thorough Treatment
Although most people with oral herpes don't require oral medications, those who get frequent fever blisters can get a prescription from a doctor for an antiviral medication such as acyclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir. These medications are the same as those used to treat genital herpes. A doctor might also prescribe an antiviral topical cream to treat oral herpes, such as acyclovir ointment or penciclovir cream.
While you have an outbreak, refrain from kissing others or making contact with the infected area of your skin with other's skin so you won't infect anyone else with HSV-1. This includes avoiding oral sex until the blisters have thoroughly healed because HSV-1 can cause genital outbreaks. Even after oral herpes goes away, you can still pass it on to others through asymptomatic shedding of the virus. ASHA recommends using a dental dam or condom to reduce the chance of giving sexual partners genital herpes.