Can you get Herpes on the tongue?

Published May 24 2024 inSexual Health
stopwatch5 minutes read

One of the things you learn very quickly about STIs is all the different ways you can get some infections.

Herpes stands out from other STIs in this category. You might be surprised at all the different places someone can get a Herpes infection.

Yes, you can get Herpes around your mouth and genitals, but you can also get the infection in your anus, eyes, and fingers.

It’s also not uncommon for many people to get a Herpes outbreak on their tongue.

So, what’s going on here? What does Herpes tongue feel like? Why could you get it? And what should you do about it if it happens?

Keep reading to find out more.

What is Herpes?

First things first: let’s talk about Herpes.

Herpes infections are caused by the family of Herpes Simplex Virus, of which there are two types: Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV 1) and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV 2).

HSV 1 is the virus that tends to cause Oral Herpes. HSV 2 tends to cause Genital Herpes.

However, it is possible to get an HSV 1 infection on your genitals and an HSV 2 infection in your mouth. It all depends on how you contract the infection.

Herpes infections of both kinds are relatively common in Australia. It’s estimated that around 75% of Australians carry HSV 1 and 10% carry HSV 2.

Better2Know also sees a lot of demand for Herpes testing in Australia. Around 25% of all screens sold to Australian customers contain tests for either HSV 1 or HSV 2.

Do you think you might have Herpes?

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What are the symptoms of Herpes?

It’s important to point out that you can have a Herpes infection and not experience any symptoms.

But when symptoms do occur, they can vary greatly from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms while others can have severe symptoms.

Initial symptoms of an HSV 1 infection usually include sensations of tingling, itching, or burning in or around the mouth. These are usually followed by the development of painful blisters or open sores (ulcers) in or around the mouth. These blisters often appear within 3 weeks of the initial infection.

Early symptoms of an HSV 2 infection can include fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes. These are followed by the appearance of blisters or open sores in the genital or anal area. Some individuals may also experience pain during urination due to blistering and ulcers inside the urethra. Sores located inside the vagina or anus are typically only observed during the first outbreak of visible symptoms.

Once you get Herpes, the infection is permanent and can’t be cured. The first outbreak of Herpes is generally the most severe. After your first outbreak, you will likely get recurrent outbreaks with less severe symptoms over time.

How does Herpes spread?

Most Herpes infections spread through intimate contact – usually through kissing, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex – by physically touching the sores of an infected person.

While less common, Herpes can also spread through sharing things like toothbrushes, cigarettes, and lip balms.

However, Herpes can also be spread even when there are no symptoms through a process known as “asymptomatic shedding”, where the virus can migrate to the surface of the skin and spread to others without causing a sore or blister.

What causes Herpes on the tongue?

What causes Herpes on the tongue?

When Herpes symptoms occur in or around the mouth, sores or blisters can sometimes appear on the gums, palette, roof of the mouth, and the tongue.

If you get a Herpes outbreak on the tongue from an HSV 1 infection, you probably got it from kissing someone or sharing items like toothbrushes, lip balm, and cosmetic brushes.

If the outbreak on the tongue results from an HSV 2 infection, you probably got it by performing unprotected oral sex on a person infected with Genital Herpes.

What does Herpes on the tongue feel like?

A Herpes outbreak on the tongue typically goes through several stages and may feel like:

  • Initial discomfort: You may notice redness, swelling, itchiness, or pain in a specific area of your tongue. This is likely where the sore will appear.
  • Formation of blisters: Small red bumps begin to appear, often in clusters in the area of the outbreak. These bumps become blister-like, with yellowish, pale white, or clear fluid inside.
  • Progression of symptoms: The blisters start with mild discomfort and progress to increasingly painful sores.
  • Healing phase: The sores on the tongue eventually crust over and heal.

It’s important to note that some people may also experience flu-like symptoms during an outbreak, such as fever, body aches, and swollen lymph nodes.

How can I prevent getting Herpes on the tongue?

Preventing a Herpes outbreak on the tongue involves a combination of lifestyle changes, safe practices, and medical treatments:

  • Avoid intimate contact: Avoid kissing, oral sex, and close touching with anyone who has visible sores.
  • Use barrier methods during sex: Use condoms or other protective barriers, such as dental dams, whenever you have sex.
  • Don’t share personal items: Avoid sharing items that a person with the infection has used, such as lipstick, utensils, or shaving equipment.
  • Manage stress: High stress levels can trigger Herpes outbreaks. Therefore, stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, and regular exercise can help prevent outbreaks.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A strong immune system can help prevent Herpes outbreaks. Therefore, maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and ensuring adequate sleep can boost your immune system.
  • Antiviral medication: If you have frequent outbreaks, your healthcare provider may recommend antiviral medication to help prevent or reduce the frequency of outbreaks.
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How long does Herpes on the tongue last?

After the outbreak, it can take around 7 to 10 days for blisters to burst and heal over.

When should I get tested?

A lot of people worry about when they should get tested. But the answer is pretty straightforward.

In the context of Herpes, you should certainly get tested once you notice the telltale symptoms of a Herpes infection, including:

  • Tingling, burning or pain around the mouth or genitals
  • The appearance of sores or fluid-filled blisters around the mouth, genitals, or anus
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fever, nausea, and fatigue

But experiencing symptoms shouldn’t be the only reason you get tested. You should also get tested if:

  • You have had unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a new partner
  • You are sexually active with more than one partner
  • You have begun a sexual relationship with a new partner
  • A previous sexual partner tells you that they have an STI

You don’t need to have done anything in particular to get tested for STIs. Simply being concerned about your sexual health is a good enough reason to get tested.

When should I see a doctor?

If your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, if your symptoms are severe, and you know you have caught a Herpes infection following receipt of a positive test result, you should reach out to a medical professional.

You should see your doctor if:

  • This is the first time you’ve had an outbreak
  • You have a weakened immune system
  • Your sores don’t heal within 2 weeks
  • Your symptoms are severe or so painful that you have trouble with everyday tasks, like eating, drinking, or performing at your job
  • You have outbreaks often

How is tongue Herpes treated?

Tongue herpes can be managed with a combination of antiviral medications and other treatments:

  • Antiviral oral medications or topical ointments: Antiviral medications are traditionally the most effective for treating Herpes
  • Over-the-counter topical anesthetics or anti-inflammatory agents: These can help alleviate symptoms if the pain is severe enough to interfere with daily functioning
  • Medicated rinses: A dentist may recommend medicated rinses and suggest avoiding certain toothpaste ingredients

Final thoughts

Herpes outbreaks can be very uncomfortable. However, if you seek the right care and treatment, you can minimise the worst effects of an outbreak.

If you think you may have Herpes, get tested with Better2Know’s Comprehensive Screen.

Protect your sexual health with Better2Know's Confidence Screen

Along with testing for Herpes, you can also get tested for a range of common STIs, including Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HPV, Mycoplasma, and Ureaplasma.


Mike has been delivering world class Sexually Transmitted Infections testing services to Better2Know patients around the world for over ten years. He has written extensively on the subject, including numerous blogs for Better2Know which are designed to demystify the complex intricacies of sexual health testing. Mike wants to help his readers understand the risks they take in their daily sexual lives and provide the information they need when choosing an STI or STD test in a clear, concise and understandable way. Mike is particularly interested in writing about viral STIs like HIV and Hepatitis, as these infections can have a devastating impact on people’s lives if they are not diagnosed quickly. Only through being well informed can you best care for your health, and Mike is passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience to help you and all his readers lead a happier, healthier life.