Herpes is an incredibly common viral infection that typically affects either the mouth or the genitals. There are more than 100 known strains of herpesvirus in nature, but according to the book Medical Microbiology, only eight of those strains are known to affect human beings. And out of those 8 strains, two of them are responsible for the large majority of herpes infections in humans: herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2).
But can either of these viruses cause herpes in the throat? Keep reading this STDWatch.com article to find out.
How do you get herpes in throat?
Typically, HSV-1 is spread through oral-to-oral contact, causing oral herpes; however, HSV-1 can also be spread through oral-to-genital contact during oral sex, which means it can also cause genital herpes. The cases of genital herpes caused by HSV-1 have been steadily rising in recent decades, according to a study published by the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
HSV-2, on the other hand, is more likely to be transmitted through genital-to-genital contact — even without penetration — and cause genital herpes. But although rare, it’s not impossible for HSV-2 to cause oral herpes, especially if you’ve had unprotected oral sex.
Herpes is an incredibly common infection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, more than 3.7 billion people around the world had HSV-1, and more than 491.5 million people had HSV-2. That’s approximately 13 and 66 percent of the world’s population aged 0 to 49 years old, respectively.
Herpes in the throat, also known as herpes esophagitis, happens when a herpes infection affects the esophagus. Most cases of herpes esophagitis affect patients who are immunosuppressed, which can be caused by another infection (such as HIV), a disease, or treatments such as chemotherapy, among others. However, that doesn’t mean that herpes in the throat can’t affect people with a competent immune system, as well.
Most cases of herpes esophagitis occur when the herpesvirus is active and able to spread to the throat or esophagus through one of the main nerves in the human body, called the vagus nerve.
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Symptoms of herpes in throat
According to a study published by The Canadian journal of infectious diseases, the symptoms of herpes esophagitis can include:
- Pain while eating
- Difficulty swallowing
- Food impaction (obstruction of the esophagus)
- Weight loss
- Epigastralgia (pain on your upper abdomen)
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Upper gastrointestinal bleeding (less common)
- Tracheoesophageal fistula (an abnormal connection between the trachea and esophagus)
Patients with herpes esophagitis can also exhibit the classic symptoms of oral herpes. According to the Cedars Sinai Hospital, these symptoms can include:
- Initial pain, itching, or tingling sensations in the area where the blisters will appear
- Fluid-filled blisters that appear around the mouth or under the nose
- The blisters break open, becoming sores, and eventually scabs
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When to see a doctor for herpes in throat
You should seek medical assistance if you ever suspect that you have herpes esophagitis — even if you’ve never had other symptoms of herpes — or another STD in your throat. Although symptoms of herpes esophagitis can go away on their own within a few weeks, there’s no way to predict whether this will be the case or if you will require treatment to manage the condition. Seeking medical help can help you get an early diagnosis so the condition can be controlled as quickly as possible.
Because herpes esophagitis isn’t a common manifestation of herpes, it could be misdiagnosed for a different condition at first. It’s important to be fully transparent with your physician about your personal history and the symptoms you have experienced.
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Treatment for herpes in throat
Currently, there’s no definite cure for herpes that can completely eliminate the virus from your body. Once you get infected with herpes, the virus will stay in your system. However, that doesn’t mean that you will always experience symptoms of herpes or that you won’t be able to lead a normal life. On the contrary, there are many things you can do to control herpes.
Different antiviral medications can be used to manage herpes in the throat, including:
There are also lifestyle strategies that can help prevent or manage herpes outbreaks.
If you’re immunosuppressed and have herpes, your doctor could prescribe prophylactic acyclovir to prevent systemic manifestations caused by herpes, such as herpes esophagitis. It’s also very important for immunosuppressed individuals to manage their underlying condition to reduce the risk of developing herpes in the throat or other complications.
Although herpes is very common, herpes in the throat or herpes esophagitis is a fairly uncommon complication that mostly affects people who are immunocompromised. However, you should always be on the lookout for symptoms of a STD affecting your throat, since you could pass it on to other people.
Thankfully, herpes can be managed through a combination of lifestyle strategies and medications which can prevent or reduce herpes outbreaks. It’s also very important to get tested for STDs regularly so you can catch any infections quickly and receive treatment.
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- Chapter 68 - Herpesviruses - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Increasing proportion of herpes simplex virus type 1 as a cause of genital herpes infection in college students - pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Massive proportion of world’s population are living with herpes infection - who.int
- Herpes simplex esophagitis in immunocompetent hosts - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Mouth Infection - cedars-sinai.org