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Oral Herpes

Exams and Tests

A doctor will base a diagnosis on information you provide and on physical examination. The characteristic appearance of the herpes sores leaves little doubt. Further testing is usually not necessary.

If you require a definitive diagnosis, for instance, if your infection involves other organ systems, the doctor may conduct laboratory tests.

  • A sample from the sores to identify the virus
  • A culture analysis
  • A staining test called the Tzanck smear
  • Antigen and antibody studies
  • Blood sampling for antibody studies

Oral Herpes Treatment Self-Care at Home

Medical Treatment

Treatment includes medication for fever and taking plenty of fluids.

  • A topical anesthetic such as viscous lidocaine (Dilocaine, Nervocaine, Xylocaine, Zilactin-L) may be prescribed to relieve pain.
  • Oral or IV medication does exist for herpes but is not recommended for people with a normal immune system. It is used only for people with weakened immune systems, infants younger than 6 weeks, or people with severe disease.
  • Some people may require hospital admission:
    • Those with severe local infection
    • People whose infection has spread to other organ systems
    • People with weakened immune systems
    • Dehydrated individuals who need IV hydration
    • Infants younger than 6 weeks

Next Steps Follow-up

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use pain medications as instructed by the doctor.
  • Use medications to control fever.
  • Watch for signs and symptoms of dehydration.


Avoid touching saliva, skin, or mucous membranes that have sores.


The sores and symptoms of oral herpes completely clear up in 2-3 weeks. But the sores may reappear under certain stressful situations.


Media file 1: Oral Herpes. Clusters of blisters erupt on the lips, tongue, and inside the mouth. Most people have been infected by at least 1 herpes subtype before adulthood.

Synonyms and Keywords

herpes labialis, herpes gingivostomatitis, herpes pharyngitis, cold sores, fever blisters, herpes simplex virus, herpes simplex virus type 1, herpes-1, herpes simplex virus, type 2 or herpes-2, herpes blister, oral blister, oral herpes

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on May 12, 2014
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