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eMed previously Babylon Health


Written by Dr Claudia Pastides, 14th March 2019


There are 2 types of herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2). These viruses cause 3 different herpes infections, categorised by the body part that is infected: oral (the mouth), genital and ocular (the eyes).

This page will discuss oral herpes (commonly known as cold sores), how oral herpes is diagnosed and what treatment you will likely be recommended.

Typical symptoms

These annoying sores that appear on, around or inside the mouth are generally mild and self-limiting (meaning that they self resolve without a need for treatment).

Caught by contact with another person that has oral herpes, 90% of the general public are estimated to have come in contact with HSV-1 at some point in their lives but most people won’t show any signs of a cold sore.

Of those that do get a cold sore, around 40% might then have recurrent cold sores (especially in the first 6 months after infection). Interestingly, recurrence of the infection is most commonly seen in young and healthy people, with recurrence rates dropping after the age of 35.

Typical symptoms include:

  • Painful fluid-filled bumps on the lips, tongue, or mouth
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle soreness
  • Painless rubbery bumps in the neck

Common treatment

Although not curable, cold sores come and go, causing relatively little bother and using an over the counter treatment for cold-sores can help (such as Zovirax).

Preventing cold sores

Prevention includes:

  • Avoiding mouth-to-mouth contact with another person who has cold sores
  • Using sunscreen
  • Managing stress
  • Medications to reduce the frequency of getting cold sores

When to see a GP

You don’t usually need to see a GP, however there are certain circumstances when it is a good idea to speak to one:

  • If you’re pregnant and due to have a baby soon
  • Have painful swallowing/difficulty eating because of sores in the mouth
  • The cold sore doesn’t get better or start healing within 10 days
  • The cold sore is large
  • You are worried it might be something else
  • You are immunosuppressed

Most cold sores can be managed via a digital consultation and if the GP feels you need to be seen, they will book you a face to face consultation in one of our clinics. To speak to one of our GPs, download the app and create an account today

More information


The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.