Are lip blisters a type of herpes?

I have a frequent outbreak on my lower lip that occurs when I get nervous such as when I travel or take tests. The outbreaks may have started when I played trombone as a kid and my lip would split at the middle. Lately, they start with a tingling and minor swelling before they erupt with blisters and an outbreak that bleeds and scabs. The entire cycle of symptoms takes about two weeks. Do you think this is herpes? I apply Zovirex 5%, but it doesn’t do much.

From your description, I would certainly say it’s herpes. I don’t know whether playing the trombone as a child predisposed you to get these outbreaks, but trauma of any kind can cause the blisters to appear. Wrestlers get a form of herpes called, appropriately, herpes gladiotorum, which usually appears on the forehead (probably from having their face ground into the mat.)

Herpes in and around the mouth is very common. It’s estimated that as many as 80 percent of the population has had it. Most of us probably get it from our parents when we’re kids, but at the time no one recognizes it as herpes. Like all the herpes viruses, it then lives forever in the nerve cells – in this case, those going to our mouths and lips. Research on genital herpes has shown that we can shed the virus and infect others even when we don’t have any sores; I assume that is also true with oral herpes.

Doc’s Advice: Are lip blisters a type of herpes?

Recurrences of oral herpes can vary a lot: Many adults never get them, others get them when exposed to some trauma, and a few get them periodically without trauma, as you seem to. However, sun exposure of the lower lip, even without an obvious burn, is notorious for provoking a recurrence. Try using a sunblock lip pomade whenever you go out.

The Zovirax 5 percent cream that you are using is less effective than Zovirax (acyclovir) taken orally or one of the newer variations on the Acyclovir theme. If you get frequent recurrences, your doctor may be willing to give you a renewable prescription so that you can start taking the drug as soon as you get that initial tingling. This can shorten the duration of the attack.

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