Bumps on the Edge of the Lips

The sudden occurrence of bumps on the edge of your lips can cause concern, particularly because bumps can indicate the herpes virus. Herpes is treatable, but cannot be cured. If you develop bumps on the lips, see your doctor for a proper evaluation and treatment.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Causes of Bumps

A variety of conditions, including acne and a kind of bacterial infection known as impetigo, cause bumps on the edge of your lips -- the area doctors refer to as the vermilion border of lip. However, if your bumps lack the features of acne, which is characterized by painful, plugged bumps, usually distributed over the face, shoulders and upper torso, or impetigo, which is characterized by easily-ruptured bumps that have a honey-crusted top, the bumps may be herpes cold sores.

About Herpes

Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes herpes cold sores, although a small percentage of may be caused by herpes type 2 -- the virus most often associated with genital herpes. According to Timothy Berger in "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment," approximately 85 percent of the adult American population has been infected with type 1 herpes 1.

Time Course of an Outbreak

Berger explains that herpes outbreaks usually occur in the same place each time. Outbreaks begin with an abnormal sensation in the area of the outbreak, such as numbness, tingling or burning. The herpes lesions, described as a cluster of painful red blisters, appear either along with the abnormal sensation or shortly thereafter, within a day or two. The lesions eventually crust over and disappear, usually within one to two weeks.


A physician diagnoses herpes by observation of the presence of clinical features of the disease, and may order laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis. According to Lawrence Corey in "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine," laboratory confirmation is usually achieved by scraping a sample of tissue from the top of a herpes lesion and using a molecular test called "polymerase chain reaction" to amplify short segments of DNA specific to the herpes virus.


Herpes treatment can be used to shorten the duration of an outbreak, or to prevent future outbreaks from occurring. In either case, the medicine of choice is one of a group of three antiviral drugs. These are acyclovir, valcyclovir and famciclovir. Over time, the frequency of outbreaks tends to lessen. However, transmission of herpes can still occur even in the absence of active herpes lesions.