Sexually transmitted diseases or infections (usually shortened to STDs or STIs) are spread through sexual contact. That doesn’t just mean sexual intercourse, as some can be also be spread by kissing or oral sex. Any STD can cause health problems, while some can be life-threatening or very dangerous to an unborn baby. Although protection and prevention are important, it’s also vital that you recognize oral STD symptoms so you can seek treatment as early as possible. The information in this article is just a start; if you are concerned about a possible oral STD, see your dentist or family doctor.
When Do Oral STD Symptoms Appear?
As is the case with genital STDs, sometimes an oral STD will have no symptoms at all or the symptoms will be so subtle you don’t notice them. Oral STD symptoms also vary widely as to when they show up. For example, gonorrhea symptoms may appear as early as 10 days after infection, while HIV symptoms can show up two to six weeks after exposure. In a few cases, oral STD symptoms may mimic something else, like a mild case of the flu or a digestive upset.
Once the oral STD infection has progressed and spread beyond the mouth, it may cause symptoms that seem completely unrelated, like joint pain. It is also fairly common for symptoms to appear and then go away, although sometimes they show up again later or a different symptom appears. The most common symptoms are listed below:
Main Symptoms of Oral STDs
Sometimes the first sign of an oral STD is a sore in the mouth. This could be a red area or it might be whitish or grey in color. The sore may be flat or raised. Often these sores are painless, so unless you’re actually looking for them, you might not even realize they exist.
Cold sores and fever blisters – or lesions that look like them – can be a sign of an oral STD. The various herpes viruses that cause genital warts are easily transmitted from the mouth to the genitals and vice versa through oral sex. These itchy, burning blisters and sores may show up on the mouth or inside it.
Sometimes you won’t have any oral STD symptoms except a red, sore throat. You may also find it hard to swallow. A sore throat can also be a sign of other problems, like allergies or a cold. However, a sore throat from an oral STD often exists in isolation – you won’t have a runny nose or cough, for example, as you might with a cold.
Your tonsils act as an early filter for all sorts of bacteria and viruses that might otherwise cause lung infections. An oral STD may cause an inflammation in the tonsils, leaving them red and swollen. The tonsils may also actually become infected.
Strep throat is a relatively common infection caused by streptococcus bacteria. It often results in a bright red, inflamed sore throat with white spots in the back of the throat. People with strep throat find swallowing very painful and may run a fever. Oral STDs can cause similar symptoms.
Oral STDs often produce a thick whitish or yellowish discharge. This is similar to the discharge seen when the infection occurs in the genitals. The discharge may also have a strong, foul or yeasty odor and may cause bad breath.
Most Common Oral STDs
Herpes simplex and human papilloma virus (cold sores and genital warts or HPV), chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most common oral STDs. HIV can be transmitted through oral sex as well. Although they may not technically be considered STDs, you can also become infected with hepatitis or a gastrointestinal infection.
Treating Oral STDs
Treatment for an oral STD depends on what the organism is. Chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea are treated with antibiotics. A different antibiotic is used in each case. For syphilis, the first choice is penicillin or tetracycline, while antibiotics called cephalosporins are used in gonorrhea. Azithromycin and doxycycline are used in chlamydia. Some strains of STDs have developed drug resistance, so it’s very important to follow instructions carefully, take all of the medication and be alert for signs that the STD has recurred.
Herpes infections can’t be cured, but medications can shorten the length of an outbreak or help prevent them in the future. Like herpes, HPV can’t be cured, but in many cases, your body will eventually clear the infection on its own. HIV is the most dangerous of all STDs and is the most difficult to treat. Medications can slow down the progression of the disease and help you stay as healthy as possible.
The only way to be completely sure you will never get an oral STD is to abstain from all forms of sexual activity. The next best is to be in a monogamous relationship with someone who has been tested and shown to be healthy. You can decrease your chances of getting an STD by always using a latex or plastic condom for mouth to penis contact or a dental dam for cunnilingus or anilingus (mouth to vagina and mouth to anus contact).
The Bottom Line
Oral STDs can be a minor problem or a serious issue. They can be prevented in many cases, however, and if you pay close attention you may be able to spot oral STD symptoms early. Treating an STD as soon as possible increases the chance of success. Perhaps you’ve noticed symptoms that concern you? Or perhaps you’ve experienced an oral STD? Please feel free to share your experience.
Image from depositphotos.com.