Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are the small, pus-filled blisters that are usually formed outside the mouth, on and around the lips, and rarely inside the mouth, on the gums, and roof of the mouth (1) (2). A child can first contract this infection between the age of one and five, which also gives it the name primary HSV.
Usually, cold sores do not cause any serious complications in children, unless they have skin conditions such as eczema or a weak immune system. In this MomJunction post, we talk about cold sores in children, its causes and symptoms, and the preventive measures you should take.
What Causes Cold Sores In Children?
Cold sores can be due to a primary cause, such as a virus, or a secondary cause that triggers the dormant virus.
1. Cold sores due to primary infection
They are caused by a contagious virus called herpes simplex virus type-I (HSV-1), which remains contagious for six to eight days.
2. Cold sores due to secondary infection (cold sore triggers)
Once the child is infected with the herpes virus, even after the symptoms disappear, the virus remains dormant in the body. Some of the triggers which can cause flare-ups are:
- Cold weather
- Menstrual period
- Emotional stress
- Weak immune system
This could be a reason why some children might get cold sores repeatedly (2).
What Does A Cold Sore Look Like?
How Do Cold Sores Spread?
Cold sores can spread from one person to another through the virus, which can be transmitted within 24-48 hours before the sores appear on the skin (4). It gets transferred through:
- Skin-to-skin contact
- Touching or sharing utensils and clothes of an infected person
Usually, the blisters ooze after a few days, leaving the crust behind. It takes around a week or two for the crust to heal completely. Children who stay close to the infected people are at risk of contracting cold sores.
Unlike canker sores or mouth ulcers, these are usually found outside the mouth and can be contagious. So how can you know for sure if the child has cold sores? Read on, and we’ll tell you.
Symptoms Of Cold Sores In Children
- Soreness around the lips and mouth that lasts for three to seven days
- Irritability and drooling
- Blisters that appear on the lips and inside the mouth may discharge pus and leave a crust
- Sore throat
- Itching and tingling sensations where the blisters are
- Swollen and tender lymph glands
- Swelling of gums
Some of these symptoms can cause discomfort and may need medical intervention. Read the next section to know when you need to seek medical advice.
When To Seek Medical Attention?
Usually, these fever blisters heal away after seven to eight days. But if you find any of the following symptoms, then take your child to the pediatrician (6).
- If the sores do not start healing after ten days
- You doubt that it might not be a cold sore.
- Your child has swollen, painful gums with multiple sores inside the mouth.
- Your child has a weakened immune system.
- If your child has repeated cold sores.
- If the cold sore shows up on the eye (7).
Based on the symptoms, the doctor will be able to diagnose the condition in the following ways.
How Are Cold Sores Diagnosed?
The diagnosis involves a physical examination by the doctor. They will check for and ask about the symptoms and might suggest you get the skin scraping test and a blood test done.
A skin scraping test involves retrieval of a sample by scraping the sore gently, which is then tested to identify the virus. A blood test may be advised to check the presence of the virus in the bloodstream (8).
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will suggest the treatment.
What Is The Treatment For Cold Sores In Children?
Cold sores usually go away on their own after seven-eight days. Though the virus cannot be entirely removed, treatment can be provided to soothe the pain caused by the sores. Usually, the sores start to heal on their own in a few days. Also, your child’s doctor might prescribe a suppressive therapy based on the frequency of recurrences.
Otherwise, the treatment includes the use of prescription antiviral medicines for cold sores, and skin ointments or cold sore creams, which can be effective if used at the first signs of the infection (5) (9). Tylenol and Motrin are effective in managing painful sores, says pediatrician Dr. Gellner (7).
In addition to the treatment, a few home care tips can help ease the pain and discomfort that the child has to deal with.
Home Care Tips To Ease Discomfort Of Cold Sores
Here are some tips to ease the discomfort and pain caused by the cold sores.
- Cold or warm compress: Apply ice directly on the cold sore or use a warm compress.
- Melissa leaves extracts: Lemon balm leaves are known for their antiviral properties. The dried extracts of Melissa may help reduce the herpes simplex infections. These extracts can be used to make a balm that can be applied to the affected areas (10). This treatment could be most effective if initiated early on.
- Avoid acidic food: Citrus fruits are acidic and can irritate the sores. So, avoid such foods in the child’s diet.
- Icy treats: Chilled food items like smoothies can have a soothing effect on the sores and may also help keep the lips hydrated.
- Aloe vera gel: According to a study, aloe vera gel could have inhibitory effects on the herpes simplex virus (11).
- Avoid the triggers which can flare up the cold sores.
These measures alleviate the pain and the discomfort caused by the cold sores. The infection cannot be treated entirely, but it can be prevented if you take the necessary precautions.
Can You Prevent Cold Sores?
As it is difficult to remove the virus from the body, you can always take precautions that might prevent your child from contracting the infection:
- Avoid contact with children or adults who have the infection.
- Prevent your child from scratching the sore as it may cause the pus to leak and spread to other parts of the body, like the fingers and eyes.
- Do not let the child share clothes or utensils with someone who is infected by the virus. Also, clean the utensils and clothes used by the child separately, using hot water.
- Do not send the child to school if there is an outbreak of cold sores.
- Prevent skin to skin contact with a person who has sores.
- Apply some balm, cream, or sunscreen on the child’s skin before they step out into the sun. This will prevent any skin irritation, which can trigger cold sores.
- Ensure that they remain physically active, get enough sleep, and eat well-balanced meals to boost the child’s immunity.
If you suspect that your child has cold sores, take the necessary precautionary measures to prevent the infection from spreading. Take them to a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. The infection may not lead to any complications if the treatment is done at the right time.
Did your child ever have cold sores? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comment section below.
2. Cold Sores in Children; Boys Town Pediatrics
3. Neonatal herpes; National Health Service
4. Herpes Simplex Virus (Cold Sores) in Children; University of Rochester Medical Center
5. Cold Sores; Regents of the University of Michigan
6. Cold Sores; National Health Service
7. How To Treat Your Child’s Cold Sore; University Of Utah
8. Herpes Simplex Virus (Cold Sores) in Children; University Hospitals
9. SH James, and RJ Whitley; Treatment of Herpes Simplex Virus Infections in Pediatric Patients: Current Status and Future Needs; NCBI(2013)
10. Local therapy of herpes simplex with dried extract from Melissa officinalis; ScienceDirect
11. Rezazadeh F, Moshaverinia M, Motamedifar M, Alyaseri M; Assessment of Anti HSV-1 Activity of Aloe Vera Gel Extract: an In Vitro Study; NCBI
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