Herpes is a common virus that can cause both genital and oral infections. But in addition to oral and genital herpes, the virus can also affect the throat in some people. Herpes esophagitis is a rare condition in which herpes affects the esophagus, which is the tubular organ that connects your mouth to your stomach. Herpes esophagitis can cause a wide range of symptoms in different people.
So if you’ve been wondering if a sore throat is a symptom of herpes, just keep reading to find out.
Can herpes affect your throat?
Yes. Esophageal herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus — and although both herpes type 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can cause herpes esophagitis, most cases of this disease are caused by HSV-1.
Herpes viruses can infect practically any tissue in the human body, and the virus has been isolated in many different parts of the body — such as herpes in the throat and ear, genitals, mouth, and different organs. However, the large majority of clinical herpes signs affect the mouth and/or genitals.
Herpes esophagitis typically only affects immunocompromised patients, although some cases have been recorded in otherwise healthy individuals. According to Patient, some of the most common causes of a suppressed immune system include:
- Chronic steroid use
- Immunosuppressant medications
- Medications used to prevent transplant rejections
- Chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Rare genetic diseases
- Certain chronic diseases
Herpes esophagitis symptoms
The symptoms of herpes esophagitis are similar to those cause by other types of esophagitis. Some of the signs of herpes in the throat include:
- Odynophagia (painful swallowing)
- Pain while eating
- Weight loss
- Food impaction
- Upper gastrointestinal bleeding
- Oral herpes lesions
According to a study published in The Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases, gingivostomatitis (inflammation of the mouth and gums) and pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx) are the most common symptoms of initial episodes of herpes in the throat.
In severe cases, the sores caused by esophageal herpes can coalesce into a larger wound. Sores can also look black. Fortunately, most cases of herpes esophagitis have a very good prognosis, especially when they’re treated promptly.
When physicians suspect a case of esophageal herpes, they will probably perform an upper endoscopy to identify lesions and take biopsies, which are tested for herpes. Herpes isn’t a common cause of esophagitis; more common causes include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and other bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
Can oral herpes cause a sore throat?
Oral herpes isn’t the same as herpes esophagitis. Oral herpes is an extremely common condition that’s usually caused by HSV-1, and it can be trasmitted through oral-to-oral contact or oral sex. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the symptoms of oral herpes can include:
- A tingling, burning, or painful sensation that starts before any sores appear in the area
- Painful, small blisters that appear in clusters and are filled with a clear fluid
- The fluid will leak from the blisters, which will become sores and then scab over
- The scabs will fall off and the sores will heal on their own within a few days
Although oral herpes sores typically appear in the outside of the mouth, under the nose, or on the chin, they can also affect the inside of the mouth. According to Cedars Sinai Hospital, sores can also appear on the gums, tongue, roof of the mouth, inside the cheeks or lips, and in rare cases, a herpes outbreak can affect your throat.
How to prevent herpes in the back of the throat
As we mentioned above, herpes esophagitis is extremely rare in healthy people. If you have a suppressed immune system, it’s very important to manage any other health conditions and follow your doctor’s instructions closely in order to avoid complications such as herpes esophagitis.
You should also avoid contact with people who have active herpes outbreaks. According to Planned Parenthood, some strategies that can help prevent herpes transmission include:
- Avoid kissing people with active herpes lesions
- Use a dental dam and condoms during oral sex
- Practice safe sex and use condoms correctly
- Avoid having sex with your partner when they have an active herpes outbreak
- If you touch a herpes sore, wash your hands immediately with soap and water
- Discuss your sexual health openly with your partners and get tested regularly
If you’re immunocompromised and have had herpes before, your doctor could recommend taking prophylactic herpes treatment, such as oral acyclovir, to prevent systemic herpes manifestations. Disseminated herpes infections in immunocompromised patients can lead to different complications, including:
- Herpes meningitis
- Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE)
- Herpetic hepatitis
Antiviral medications are also used to treat herpes esophagitis. Both oral or intravenous medications can be used, although IV treatment is usually reserved for severe cases.
Always remember that learning your STD status can help prevent and manage complications, such as herpes in the throat. Getting screened regularly is easier than ever thanks to at-home STD. You can learn more about herpes and other reproductive health topics at STDWatch.com.
Herpes simplex esophagitis in immunocompetent hosts - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Oral Herpes - hopkinsmedicine.org
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Mouth Infection - cedars-sinai.org
Immune Suppression - patient.info
How is herpes prevented? - plannedparenthood.org