Cold sores, also known as oral herpes or fever blisters, are small blisters that form around the mouth and lips. They can also develop on the nose, cheeks, and chin in rarer cases. These blisters ooze after a few days and form a crust, then completely heal within one or two weeks.
Causes of Cold Sores in Children
Although they are known as cold sores, they are not related to the common cold. Instead, cold sores are brought about by the type 1 herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), a very common viral infection worldwide. Herpes simplex appears in two forms, type 1 and type 2, with cold sores being caused by type 1. Type 2 is sexually transmitted, and it causes infections such as genital herpes.
Cold sores are highly contagious, and they spread through saliva, where one can infect others by sharing utensils, toys, and towels, or by kissing. HSV-1 can also be spread through skin contact. It is essential to note that some people carry the virus but do not exhibit any symptoms; however, they can still spread it through saliva.
The type 1 herpes simplex virus is so common that almost two-thirds of the global population under 50 years old have it. Most people get the virus between the ages of one and five and have it for a lifetime. Therefore, the person will get cold sores occasionally because even if you use a cold sore treatment and the blisters heal, the virus remains dormant in the body. Often, the cold sore erupts in the same place every time.
Cold Sore Triggers
When a child gets the HSV-1 virus, they live with it forever. The virus remains dormant or inactive in nerve cells until something triggers its outbreak.
Common triggers include:
• Weak immune system
• Illness such as the flu
• Damaged or cracked lips
• Exposure to extreme temperatures
Symptoms of Cold Sores in Children
Each child exhibits different symptoms. Some do not show any symptoms during the initial infection, while others exhibit flu-like symptoms and develop ulcers around the mouth. However, symptoms are typically not as severe when the condition recurs.
Common cold sore symptoms include:
• Blisters on the mouth and lips that enlarge in size, leak fluid and then crust over
• Irritation, itching, and tingling of the mouth and lips
• Sore mouth and lips
Cold sore symptoms may mimic other illnesses. Ensure that your child sees a healthcare provider and proper diagnosis and cold sore treatment.
Treatment for Cold Sores
Cold sore treatment depends on the child’s general health, age, symptoms, and the severity of the condition. The virus causing cold sores is incurable, but you can ease the symptoms through treatment. Possible treatment includes antiviral medicine and other prescription medicines prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. The medicine is most effective when taken immediately after the initial signs of cold sores occur. Ask the healthcare provider about the possible side effects, benefits, and risks of all medicines.
Prevention of Cold Sores
If you or another family member has herpes simplex, there are ways to protect your child from infection. Bear in mind that the virus also exists in saliva, even without cold sore symptoms. Ask the child not to share utensils, cups, towels, washcloths, or kiss the infected individual.
If your child gets cold sores, they should not:
• Kiss others
• Rub or touch the sore
• Share eating utensils or cups
• Share towels or washcloths
It would also be good to keep the child away from school when first infected.
Easing Discomfort from Cold Sores
Even when taking medication for cold sores, you can ease your child’s discomfort through the following:
• Keep the child away from acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits as they irritate a cold sore.
• Applying cold compresses to the sore, which reduces pain and redness.
• Keep the child’s mouth and lip area well moisturized to prevent drying out of the sore. Throw away the petroleum jelly or lip balm when the sore heals.