Oral care

Herpes on tongue: Causes, Symptoms, Stages, Treatment, Pictures

Herpes on tongue can be really a terrible experience. Herpes sores can occur anywhere on the body. But, the most common sites for the development of Herpes blisters are mouth or oral cavity, called Oral Herpes, and Genitals, called Herpes Genitalis.

In Oral Herpes, there are blisters of Herpes on tongue, and also on gums, the inner side of cheeks, lips, etc. Herpes sores are really very painful, and troublesome. So, if there is Herpes on tongue, the affected person finds it difficult even to eat.

What is Herpes on tongue?

Herpes on tongue
Image source: azcentral.com

Herpes infections are due to a virus called Herpes Simplex or HSV. There are two main types of Herpes simplex viruses. They are the Herpes simplex virus 1 or HSV 1, and the Herpes simplex virus 2 or HSV 2.

HSV 2 virus mainly causes Herpes blisters on the genitals, and it is called Herpes Genitalis. HSV 1 virus causes Herpes sores or blisters on the oral cavity or mouth. It affects all parts of the oral cavity. Although we can see sores of Herpes on tongue, the most common sites for the development of Oral Herpes sores are lips. These Herpes blisters are also seen on the roof of mouth, inners surface of cheeks, on gums, etc.

Herpes on tongue causes:

Herpes simplex virus is highly contagious, and it can be acquired through infected saliva, skin or mucous membranes. HSV 1 causes oral Herpes and it can be acquired through touching the infected blisters or the saliva of the affected person. HSV 2 causes genital Herpes, and it can be spread through sexual contact or touching the blisters of the affected person. In some percentage of the people, about 20%, HSV 1 can also cause Genital Herpes, and HSV2 can also cause Oral Herpes.

Herpes on tongue symptoms and signs:

Sores of Herpes on tongue develop after an incubation period of about 1 to 3 weeks that is 1 to 3 weeks after the virus enters your body. In majority of people, the incubation period is less than a week. The severity with which the symptoms of tongue herpes develop depends on the immunity levels of the patient and many other factors. The main symptoms of Herpes on tongue are:

  • Development of burning sensation, pain, and itch in the area of development of tongue herpes few days before the onset of sores on the tongue
  • Fever
  • Soreness in throat or pain in the throat
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Bleeding from the gums
  • Myalgias or muscle pains
  • Irritable feeling
  • Swelling and pain in the lymph nodes
  • Pain and swelling of the salivary glands
  • Development of cold sores on the upper lip, inside the nose, inside the throat, over the chin, and over the neck
  • Difficulty and pain while swallowing food
  • Pain in the sores of Herpes on tongue
  • These sores appear like blisters mostly and are filled with fluid
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In some people, the primary infection with Herpes virus can be asymptomatic also. In the people who are asymptomatic or symptomatic after primary infection with Herpes virus, the virus moves to dorsal root ganglion in the spinal cord and remains dormant over there. It can get reactivated when the person is having emotional or physical stress, and it causes Herpes sores or blisters again.

How long Herpes on tongue lasts?

Herpes on tongue can last anywhere between 1 to 3 weeks. But in most people, it lasts for about 10 days or so. The person will have severe pain and irritation in the mouth and tongue when having Herpes on tongue. Many times, a person might not be aware that he has Herpes on tongue. He might be thinking that his sores on tongue are due to aphthous ulcers or something minor. But, if these blisters are really painful, and are many, they are most probably Herpes on tongue and not aphthous ulcers.

Herpes on tongue Stages of development:

There are many stages that Herpes virus goes through in our body. Let us explore them:

Primary infection:

A person might get a primary infection of Herpes virus from another person who is infected through saliva, skin, mucous membranes, sexual contact, etc. Then there is an incubation period of 1 to 3 weeks, mostly 1 week during which the virus reproduces and grow in our body.

Then there is the development of symptoms like the development of Herpes sores on the tongue, other parts of the body, fever, sore throat, fatigue, etc. this is called symptomatic infection. Also, there are other types of Herpes infection called asymptomatic infection, in which there is no development of any symptoms of Herpes after the primary infection.

Many people are asymptomatic after primary infection with Herpes virus in comparison to people who develop symptomatic infection.

Latency period:

After the primary infection, the virus persists in our body. The Herpes simplex virus goes into the nervous tissue near our spinal cord called dorsal root ganglion. It carries on reproduction in the dorsal root ganglion and then becomes dormant or inactive in it.


The virus continues to stay dormant in the dorsal root ganglion just waiting for an opportunity to become active again. When the person becomes susceptible to any form of stress like mental stress or physical stress due to any disease, the immunity of the person is lowered. So, the virus becomes active again and starts producing symptoms. Any person developing recurrent Herpes on tongue or any other Herpes infection on any other part of the body goes through the following stages:

Prodromal stage (lasts for 1 to 2 days):

During this stage, there is the development of itching, burning, tingling, pain in the area where there will be the development of Herpes sores subsequently.

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Swelling or inflammation stage (lasts for 1 to 2 days):

It is the starting stage for the development of blisters. Your immunity can try to control the virus outbreak now or you can take treatment now to get good relief from the Herpes blisters.

Blister development (lasts 1 to 2 days):

During this time there is the development of proper blisters which are mostly small in size and filled with fluid. They are red, gray or white in color. This Herpes on tongue can develop a cluster of blisters or vesicles in one particular part of the body.

Ulcer formation (last about a day):

During this stage, the blisters burst and form gray colored ulcers. The fluid is seen oozing out. During this time, the sores of Herpes on tongue are highly contagious and can easily spread to other people.

Scab development (about 3 to 6 days):

In this stage, there is the development of scab or crust over the ruptured and ulcerated blisters. This crust can also appear yellow in color.

Healing process:

This healing process continues for several days, during which there is healing of tissue under the scabs, and the scabs or crust will fall off eventually.

Diagnosis of Herpes on tongue:

The diagnosis of these Herpes sores is made by physicians just based on their appearance and the locations at which these sores appear. But, sometimes, examination of fluid of these sores or testing the blood for antibodies against this virus might be necessary.

Is Herpes on tongue contagious?

Herpes on tongue is definitely contagious. It can spread through contact with the infected person’s saliva, skin, blisters or mucous membranes. If you are having Herpes on tongue, you need to avoid kissing anyone including babies. You need to avoid using the same glasses and utensils that other people use. If you are coughing, you handkerchief and then wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading the infection to others. Avoid sexual contact with others when having Herpes on tongue, because, HSV 1 can also cause Genital Herpes in some people which can spread through sexual contact.

Herpes on tongue vs canker sores:

Canker sores or aphthous ulcers are a very common condition that majority of us experience in our life. Canker sores on tongue can develop due to many reasons like nutritional deficiencies, stress, hormonal changes, irritating substances in the mouth like spicy, acidic food, chewing or biting the tongue accidentally, etc. But sores of Herpes on tongue are caused by Herpes simplex viruses.

Also, the blisters caused by Herpes on tongue are filled with fluid. But, aphthous ulcers or canker sores are not filled with any sort of fluid. Canker sores generally resolve by themselves within few days. But, for Herpes on tongue, medical treatment is essential.

Once the canker sores resolve, there is no residual infection in the body, as they are not caused by infection. But, after Herpes on tongue resolves, there is dormant Herpes simplex virus residing in our body waiting for a chance to reactivate and cause disease again.

Herpes on tongue treatment options:

There are several treatment options that assist us to get relief from the pain and irritation caused by Herpes on tongue, and also to facilitate its healing. Some of them are available as over the counter drugs, while some need prescription by a medical professional or physician. Let us look at both of them.

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Anesthetic gels:

Herpes on tongue can be really very painful. So, any gel containing local anesthetic in them can be really very helpful in warding off the pain. You can use oral gel containing anesthetic like Benzocaine or lignocaine in it over the Herpes on tongue blisters.

Vitamin and mineral supplements:

Any deficiency of vitamins and minerals can weaken the immunity, and lead to the reactivation of the virus and can also increase the severity of the viral attack. So, try to take nutritional supplements which help to enhance your immunity levels and also to get rid of the infection fast.

Over the counter analgesics:

Herpes on tongue sores are really very painful, and they make even eating very difficult and painful. So, you can take over the counter analgesics or painkillers like acetaminophen or paracetamol, aspirin or diclofenac or ibuprofen to get pain relief from Herpes blisters. But, be sure to take these drugs only after eating, as they can aggravate acidity problems.

Using antiseptic soap:

Clean your Herpes blisters on the chin, neck, etc with antiseptic soap. This helps keep your blisters clean and to get rid of fluid which is oozing out, etc.

Warm or cold compress:

You can use warm or cold compress over the blisters. This helps in providing some relief from the pain caused by Herpes on tongue.

Be cautious with foods:

Avoid intake of foods which are very hot and spicy. Also, avoid foods which are sour and tangy like citrus fruits as they can irritate the Herpes sores further.

Gargle with salt water:

If you gargle with warm salt water, it helps to get rid of viral infection. It also helps in healing the Herpes blisters or sores faster.


Drink 8 to 10 glasses of cold water throughout the day. Dehydration can aggravate the blisters and make them crack or dry, which can aggravate the pain further. Stay hydrated adequately, as dehydration can be a side effect of Herpes infections.


Acyclovir drug is used to kill the Herpes simplex viruses. It can be used as tablets, and also as gel or ointment over the Herpes on tongue blisters. But, this drug is only prescribed by your physician, once he is sure that you are suffering from Herpes sores. But, it is not available as over the counter drug.

When to see a doctor:

You need to see a doctor when you have Herpes on tongue if you have any of the following:

  • If you are dehydrated and develop symptoms like dizziness, palpitations, weakness or fatigue
  • If your pain is really intolerable and you need prescription analgesics that are not available over the counter
  • To get prescription for Acyclovir, as it is a prescription only drug

Prevention of Herpes on tongue sores:

  • Avoid any form of contact with a person who is suffering from Herpes infection until he gets cured
  • There are several triggers that can reactivate a dormant infection of Herpes in the dorsal root ganglion-like stress, physical diseases, stress during menstruation, lack of sleep, healthy diet, etc.
  • So, avoid all forms of stress, and be relaxed. Do yoga, meditation to relax
  • Eat a healthy diet full of green leafy vegetables, grains, fruits, etc.
  • If you follow all the above-mentioned things, you can prevent development of Herpes infection in you including Herpes on tongue.

Herpes on tongue Pictures or Images:

herpes on tongue pictures 1
Image source: hellomrdoctor.com
Herpes on tongue pictures 2
Image source: dental-health-advice.com
Herpes on tongue pictures 3
Image source: uiowa.edu

You have seen all the information about Herpes on tongue like the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, the difference between Herpes on tongue and canker sores, treatment options and prevention. Hope you find the article informative.

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