Herpes On Tongue Pictures

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Herpes On Tongue Pictures
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Many readers are interested in the following topic: What Does a Herpes Sore Look Like. We are happy to note, that our authors have already studied the modern research about the topic you are interested in. Based on the information provided in the latest medical digests, modern research and surveys, we provide extensive answer. Keep reading to find out more.

Herpes is a mild skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. It causes blister-like sores to appear anywhere on the body. The most commonly affected areas include around the mouth, the genitals, and buttocks.

What does herpes look like?

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Herpes sores can affect many areas of the body, including the mouth, genitals, and eyes. Knowing what herpes looks like across the body can help people diagnose the condition.

Herpes is a skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. The symptoms include sores that come and go over time. Different types of herpes affect different body parts.

This article will explain what herpes is, how people get it, and what herpes looks like with pictures.

Doctor showing patient the appearance of herpes with pictures on tablet device

Most people with HSV are asymptomatic, meaning they will not experience any symptoms. Others will notice sores or lesions. These sores look like blisters filled with fluid. Over a few days, the sores break open, ooze, and form a crust before healing.

People may also notice a tingling, itching, or burning feeling a few days before the sores appear. Some people may also experience flu-like symptoms, such as:

Someone who has contracted the virus will usually have their first sores, or an outbreak, between 2 and 20 days later. The sores may last up to a week or 10 days.

An outbreak may involve a single sore or a cluster of sores. They often affect the skin around the mouth, the genitals, or the rectum. The blisters can take between 2 and 4 weeks to heal.

The symptoms will usually reappear from time to time, though they do not tend to be as severe as the first time.

The following sections discuss the symptoms of herpes that arise on commonly affected body parts.

Herpes is a mild condition that causes small sores to appear on the skin.

People develop herpes after being exposed to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of this virus:

  • herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1), or oral herpes, which usually affects the mouth
  • herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2), or genital herpes, which generally affects the genitals

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , 67 percent of people under 50 years old have the HSV-1 virus, and 11 percent of 15 to 49 year-olds have the HSV-2 infection worldwide.

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can occur on the face or the genitals. People can contract both herpes viruses through bodily fluids, including genital fluids and saliva.

Once someone has the virus, the symptoms can flare up from time to time for the rest of their life. While the sores can be uncomfortable and even painful, they are not usually dangerous for otherwise healthy adults.

In oral herpes, most blisters appear on the lips or mouth. They can also form elsewhere on the face, especially around the chin and below the nose, or on the tongue.

At first, the sores look similar to small bumps or pimples before developing into pus-filled blisters. These may be red, yellow or white. Once they burst, a clear or yellow liquid will run out, before the blister develops a yellow crust and heals.

People with oral herpes may experience swollen lymph nodes in the neck during an outbreak.

Females with genital herpes may develop sores on the vulva, which is the external part of the genitals that includes the outer lips (labia), or inside the vagina. It may be difficult to see sores that develop inside the vagina.

Genital sores vary in size and number, but as with oral herpes, they look like pimples or blisters filled with fluid. They will burst and develop a yellowy crust as they heal.

Females are more likely to have trouble urinating during a genital herpes outbreak than men. They may experience a burning sensation while passing urine. They may also notice they have swollen lymph nodes in their groin.

Males with genital herpes may develop sores on and around the penis.

Small red or white pimples develop into larger, fluid-filled sores that may be red, white or yellow. As with oral herpes and female genital herpes, these sores tend to burst before crusting over.

Along with other flu-like symptoms, men may experience swollen lymph nodes in their groin.

Both men and women with genital herpes may develop sores or blisters on the buttocks or around the rectum.

A person may notice open, red wounds on or around the anus.

Herpes sores may also appear around the rectum, and a person may also develop swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

Share on Pinterest Children who suck their thumb may develop herpetic whitlow.

Herpes blisters can also develop on the fingers. This is called herpetic whitlow and is most common in children who suck their thumb.

Herpes can cause one or more sores to develop around the fingernail. A person will often experience pain or a tingling sensation in the area before the sore develops.

If multiple sores appear, they tend to join up and become one large, honeycomb-like blister within a week. They may also spread to the nail bed.

Herpes keratitis refers to a herpes infection in the eye. It may affect one or both eyes and causes:

  • eye pain
  • sensitivity to light
  • discharge from the eye

Anyone who suspects herpes keratitis should see a doctor. Without treatment, the infection can scar the eye, leading to cloudy vision, or even vision loss.

Herpes is a mild skin condition caused by the herpes simplex virus. It causes blister-like sores to appear anywhere on the body. The most commonly affected areas include around the mouth, the genitals, and buttocks.

There is no cure for HSV, and people who have contracted the virus will usually experience breakouts from time to time. The sores usually clear up on their own, though people can help treat outbreaks using antiviral medicine, such as:

  • acyclovir
  • famciclovir
  • valacyclovir

These treatments, which are available as creams or pills from drug stores or on prescription, can shorten the duration of a herpes outbreak.

To avoid transmitting herpes to other people, avoid skin-to-skin contact during flare-ups of symptoms, especially when the sores are open.

When a person has genital herpes, they can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus by using a condom between outbreaks. People with oral herpes can reduce the risk of transmission by avoiding kissing, sharing tableware, or performing oral sex during an outbreak.

Last medically reviewed on March 29, 2019

  • Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses
  • Sexual Health / STDs

What Does a Herpes Sore Look Like?

Heather L. Brannon, MD, is a family practice physician in Mauldin, South Carolina. She has been in practice for over 20 years.

Updated on July 20, 2022

Renita White, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who practices at Georgia Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Herpes is a type of viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types known as herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), both of which can cause the outbreak of blisters and painful sores.

HSV-1 is the type most commonly associated with cold sores (oral herpes), while HSV-2 accounts for the majority of genital herpes infections. However, HSV-1 can also be spread to the genitals and HSV-2 can be spread to the mouth through oral sex.

This gallery of images describes the signs and symptoms of a herpes infection, including what a herpes sore looks like. It also differentiates herpes from similar conditions with similar features so that you can seek appropriate treatment.

Note: Some of the following images are of genital areas.

Early Herpes Symptoms

Herpes rash early

Once infected, herpes viruses stay with you forever. There is no cure. When the virus is inactive, it will imbed itself in nerve cells near the spinal cord (called the spinal nerve root).

When herpes reactivates, the virus will travel up the string of nerves to the surface of the skin where it will cause an outbreak of tiny blisters called vesicles . The vesicles will then erupt, causing painful open ulcers commonly referred to as herpes sores.

This photo shows an example of the early stages of a herpes rash, the blisters of which are clustered in a red patch. In addition to pain, there may be itchiness or a pins-and-needles sensation.

Prodromal Symptoms of Herpes

Prior to a herpes outbreak, people will often have prodromal symptoms (meaning non-specific signs that precede major symptoms). With herpes, this may include localized genital pain, or tingling or shooting pains in the legs, hips, or buttocks. This may occur hours or days before the actual outbreak.

The outbreak may also be preceded by flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes, particularly during the first outbreak.

Herpes Vesicles

Herpes on leg

There are three stages of a herpes outbreak:

  • Prodromal: This is when the virus reactivates and migrates to the surface of the skin, causing non-specific nerve pain or sensations.
  • Vesicular: This is when blisters (vesicles) develop.
  • Ulcerative: This is when the blisters break open to form skin ulcers.

This picture illustrates the formation of vesicles. Note the cluster of vesicles on a red base. These fluid-filled blisters are delicate and break open easily, creating open, oozing sores. Eventually, the sore will stop oozing and crust over.

How Herpes Is Treated

Both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are treated with antiviral drugs. They are most effective when started within 48 to 72 hours of the first signs of an outbreak. They do not cure herpes but may reduce the severity and duration of an outbreak. Recommended options include:

  • Zovirax ( acyclovir )
  • Famvir ( famciclovir )
  • Valtrex ( valacyclovir)

Typical Herpes Outbreak of the Penis

Typical Lesions on Penis

This picture illustrates a typical herpes outbreak of the penis. Note how some of the tiny blisters have converged into larger ones.

Severe cases like this tend to occur during a first outbreak (called primary herpes). Thereafter, the body will have produced immune proteins, called antibodies, that are not able to neutralize the virus but can help control the infection.

As a result, subsequent outbreaks tend to be far less severe.

Atypical Herpes Outbreak of the Penis

Atypical Lesions on Penis

Because the genital area is warm and moist, herpes can sometimes have an atypical appearance in places like the penis, vagina, and anus.

In this picture, the lesions look more like erosions (where only part of the top layer of skin is damaged). If you look closely, however, you can see that each red area has a cluster of small sores.

Herpes Outbreaks in Females

Lesion on Vulva

This picture shows a herpes ulcer on the vulva. The vulva is the external part of the female genitalia.

Females are four times more likely to get an HSV-2 infection than males. In addition, females may have symptoms that are not readily recognized as herpes.

For instance, a female may feel pelvic pain if the rash is located inside the vagina or on the cervix. This could lead to a misdiagnosis of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Also, many females experience burning with urination during a genital herpes outbreak. The burning may be misdiagnosed as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Typical Healing of Genital Herpes Sores

Herpes simplex

Note the crusting that has occurred near the head of the penis in this photo. The crust forms as fluids from the blisters evaporate and leave behind whitish or yellowish crystals.

In addition to pain, the oozing sores will often have a “fishy” smell in both females and males. The smell can increase after sex due to the abrasion of skin on skin.

The timeline of a genital herpes outbreak can vary. With primary herpes, the outbreak will usually occur within four days of exposure to the virus (although it can occur anywhere from two to 12 days after exposure).

A genital herpes outbreak may last up to seven to 10 days, particularly with the first outbreak. After crusting, healing usually occurs within two to four weeks, typically with no scarring.

Atypical Healing of Genital Herpes Sores

Healing Lesions on Penis

This picture shows herpes lesions after some of the blisters have broken open. Typically, you will see a whitish or yellowish crust forming on the ulcers.

With that said, crusting may not be all that apparent. Because the skin of the penis and vagina is moist, there may be minimal crusting. Instead, there may be a whitish film covering or surrounding the open sores.

Cold Sores (Oral Herpes)

cold-sore-lip-hiv-symptoms

Cold sores (also called fever blisters, oral herpes, or orolabial herpes ) are more often caused by herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) than herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2).

Cold sores progress in much the same way as genital herpes. HSV-1 can also affect the tongue, gums, or face.

HSV-1 can also be passed to the genitals or anus via oral sex. While it is often impossible to tell which type of HSV caused a genital herpes outbreak, those involving HSV-1 are less to recur.

Herpetic Whitlow

Early infection on finger

HSV-1 and HSV-2 can both be spread to other parts of the body by hand-to-skin contact, such as rubbing a sore and touching your face, eye, or anus.

This can occur between someone with herpes and someone without. You can even auto-inoculate by touching a sore on your body and then another part of your own body.

The finger is a common place to get a herpes infection to spread. In fact, it’s common enough to have its own name: herpetic whitlow .

This picture shows the early stage of a herpes whitlow infection. Since the skin on the fingers is thicker, the blisters aren’t as fragile and may not break open.

Herpetic whitlow can occur if you come in contact with herpes sores or blisters, either from HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Herpetic Keratitis

Herpes Lesion Around the Eye

HSV-1 and HSV-2 can also be transmitted to the eye by hand-to-skin contact, such as rubbing the eyes after touching a blister or sore.

This picture shows herpetic keratitis , a herpes infection that involves the cornea (the outside covering of the eye). Note the blisters around the eyelid and crusting ulcers near the eyes.

Symptoms of herpetic keratitis may include:

  • Eye pain
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery discharge
  • Blurry vision

Herpes of the eye is serious and requires immediate care by an eye specialist known as an ophthalmologist . If left untreated, herpetic keratitis can cause corneal scarring and vision loss.

Herpes Simplex vs. Chickenpox

Chicken pox

Chickenpox is caused by a herpes virus called varicella-zoster virus (VSV). While chickenpox can cause blistering and crusting sores like HSV, there are certain tell-tale signs that differentiate them.

With the chickenpox, note that each blister in this photo has its own red base and is not clustered in a group like HSV.

As opposed to a localized outbreak, chickenpox usually starts on the torso, scalp, and face before spreading to the arms and legs. The rash can also cause sores in the eyes, mouth, and vagina, although this is uncommon.

And, unlike HSV, a chickenpox rash can leave behind scars after it heals.

Herpes Simplex vs. Aphthous Ulcers

Ulcer

This is a picture of aphthous ulcers , a type of oral sore that is often confused with cold sores. Aphthous ulcers can occur anywhere in the mouth, but do not involve the outside of the lip. They are not caused by the herpes virus.

Aphthous ulcers (also known as canker sores) are painful, non-contagious ulcers limited to the inside of the mouth. As opposed to herpes blisters, aphthous ulcers start as painful sores that are yellowish or whitish in color with a red border.

Aphthous ulcers can be caused by the following.

  • Coxsackievirus
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Chemotherapy
  • Autoimmune diseases (like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)

Summary

Herpes is a viral infection caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Although HSV-1 mainly causes cold sores and HSV-2 mainly causes genital herpes, they can cause herpes outbreaks on other parts of the body due to oral sex or hand-to-skin contact. Many genital herpes infections today are due to HSV-1.

Herpes progresses in stages and causes the outbreak of blisters and painful ulcerative sores. This is followed by the crusting of the sores. Healing usually occurs within two to four weeks.

A Word From Verywell

Herpes infections are common. While they cannot be cured, they can be managed or prevented with antiviral drugs. If you have symptoms of herpes, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They can take a swab of the sore to confirm whether you have been infected.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is herpetic whitlow?

Herpetic whitlow is a viral infection that usually causes a red, blistering rash to appear on one finger. It is possible for multiple fingers to be affected, but this is rare. If complications occur, herpetic whitlow can also cause scarring, nail damage, numbness, and skin hypersensitivity.

What causes a blister to form?

Blisters, also known as vesicles or vesicular lesions, are formed when fluid becomes trapped beneath the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis) which causes a small bubble to appear. Causes can range from allergic reactions and minor trauma to herpes or chickenpox.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Modi S, Van L, Gewirtzman A, et al. Single-day treatment for orolabial and genital herpes: a brief review of pathogenesis and pharmacology. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(2):409-17.
  2. Sauerbrei A. Herpes genitalis: Diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2016;76(12):1310-1317. doi:10.1055/s-0042-116494
  3. Wu IB, Schwartz RA. Herpetic whitlow. Cutis. 2007;79(3):193-6.
  4. Edgar NR, Saleh D, Miller RA. Recurrent aphthous stomatitis: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(3):26-36.

Additional Reading

  • American Academy of Dermatology. Herpes simplex: Signs and symptoms.
  • Bernstein DI, Bellamy AR, Hook EW, et al. Epidemiology, clinical presentation, and antibody response to primary infection with herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in young women. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2013;56(3):344-351. doi:10.1093/cid/cis891
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital HSV infections. Updated January 25, 2021.

By Heather L. Brannon, MD
Heather L. Brannon, MD, is a family practice physician in Mauldin, South Carolina. She has been in practice for over 20 years.

How to Identify and Treat Herpes on the Tongue

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) most commonly causes cold sores while HSV-2 is associated with genital herpes. But, it’s also possible to contract an HSV-2 infection in the mouth from sex without a condom or other barrier method.

Herpes simplex is a type of virus known to affect both the mouth and the genitals.

There are two distinct types of virus that can cause herpes on the tongue:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). HSV-1 is the type that most commonly causes cold sores.
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-2 is commonly associated with genital herpes.

HSV-1 is generally the one that causes herpes on the tongue. But it’s also possible to contract an HSV-2 infection in the mouth from sex without a condom or other barrier method.

There’s currently no cure for either HSV virus, but both can be treated and prevented.

Once a virus gets into your body, it uses proteins on its surface to enter a host cell.

Inside of the host cell, the virus makes additional copies of itself. These new viruses eventually leave the host cell, going on to infect new cells.

Many people who contract HSV-1 or HSV-2 are asymptomatic. This means that they have no symptoms and may not know that they have the virus.

In addition to sores and lesions, people with a recent infection may also experience flu-like symptoms. These can include:

  • fever
  • body aches
  • swollen lymph nodes

HSV-1 and HSV-2 can lie dormant in your nerve cells (neurons). When the virus is dormant, you can go for months or years without showing any symptoms.

Sometimes, the virus can reactivate. Although some causes of reactivation are unclear, it can be due to factors such as:

  • stress
  • injury
  • prolonged exposure to sunlight

During reactivation, you’ll often experience symptoms.

How HSV-1 is spread

In this case, HSV-1 attaches to the cells in and around your mouth. The virus then replicates and spreads to surrounding cells. Someone with an active HSV-1 infection may have symptoms like cold sores.

The herpes simplex virus, especially HSV-1, can spread through contact with the skin or saliva of someone who carries the virus or who has an active herpes infection, like a cold sore.

For example, kissing someone who has an infected cold sore in their mouth can spread the HSV-1 virus easily.

Sharing items that a person with the infection has used, such as lipstick, utensils, or shaving equipment, can put you at risk for contracting the virus and getting symptoms on your tongue.

How HSV-2 is spread

HSV-2 can also cause herpes symptoms on the tongue.

HSV-2 is mainly spread through sex without a condom or other barrier method. Therefore, you won’t necessarily get it just by touching or sharing items with someone who has the infection.

Here are some possible ways HSV-2 can be transmitted to your mouth or tongue:

  • Giving or receiving oral sex without a barrier method with someone who has an infected herpes sore on or around their genitals. It can spread especially easily if the sore is producing pus or discharge.
  • Making oral contact with sexual body fluids like semen or vaginal discharge with someone who carries the virus or who has an active infection.
  • Making contact between the mouth and anus when the anus skin has an open, infected sore on it.

Herpes symptoms on your tongue usually come in the form of red, swollen, sensitive blisters. The blisters start with mild discomfort and progress to increasingly painful sores.

Here are the stages of a herpes infection that you can typically expect from tongue herpes:

  1. You’ll notice redness, swelling, itchiness, or pain in a specific area of your tongue. This is likely where the sore will appear.
  2. On the tongue, you may see a white substance that turns into yellowish ulcers.
  3. Ulcers also might appear on your throat, the roof of your mouth, and inside your cheeks.

Your doctor will most likely be able to identify and diagnose an HSV-1 infection by looking at sores on your tongue or mouth.

Share on Pinterest Herpes blisters on the tongue. Photo Credit: CDC/ Robert E. Sumpter, 1967.

This is part of a physical exam in which your doctor may also check the rest of your body for any other symptoms. This can also help rule out other causes like HSV-2.

Your doctor can use a cotton swab to collect fluid from a sore and send it to a lab to test for the presence of HSV-1 virus RNA. This is called a herpes culture. This test can also diagnose HSV-2 if that’s the actual cause.

Your doctor may suggest a blood test if you don’t have open, active sores on your tongue.

An HSV-1 blood test involves taking a small sample of your blood and sending it to a lab to check it for antibodies. Your immune system creates these antibodies to fight off HSV-1 viral infections.

There’s no cure for the HSV-1 virus. Instead, you can manage symptoms, such as tongue sores, and reduce the chance of frequent outbreaks.

Sores will sometimes just go away on their own — no treatment needed.

But if you have severe or frequent outbreaks, your doctor may prescribe one of the following antiviral treatments as a pill, topical cream, or ointment:

  • valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • famciclovir
  • acyclovir (Zovirax)

You may also get one of these medications as an injection if your symptoms are severe. Antiviral medications help reduce the chance you’ll transmit the virus to others.

Here’s what you can do to prevent exposure to the herpes virus:

  • Don’t make direct physical contact with others, particularly if they have an active infection.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds at a time. If the virus is present on your hands, this will prevent it from passing to other parts of your body or to other people.
  • If any clothes, blankets, or sheets have made contact with infected sores, wash them in hot water as soon as possible.
  • Don’t share items that can make contact with people’s skin or mouths, such as:
    • lip products
    • makeup
    • towels
    • cups
    • utensils
    • clothes

    See your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms along with herpes-like blisters or sores in your mouth:

    • pain or discomfort in your mouth or tongue that gets increasingly worse over time, especially after a week or longer
    • flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue or fever
    • unusually cloudy or discolored discharge that comes out of your genitals

    Tongue herpes is usually not a cause for concern. Sores will often go away on their own and only come back occasionally during outbreaks.

    But herpes can be spread easily through close contact, particularly if you have an active infection. Because of this, you’ll need to take precautions to make sure you don’t pass the infection to others.

    Taking these same precautions can help prevent you from contracting the infection in the first place, too.

    Last medically reviewed on June 26, 2020