Cold Sores and Children
How do I know if my child has cold sores?
A child’s first infection may be so mild you may not be aware that he/she has contracted the herpes simplex virus. However, there’s no way to predict how severe any given outbreak may be. It may take up to three weeks after initial exposure to the herpes simplex virus for an outbreak to occur. Once your child has been exposed, an outbreak may include any of the following symptoms:
- Most outbreaks are preceded by a period called the prodrome. During the prodrome, your child may experience pain or tingling in the area where the blisters subsequently form. If caught at this stage, you can prevent a cold sore from appearing, but it can be hard to catch in this stage as your child may not be able to verbalize what they are feeling, so pay close attention to any frequent lip touching and administer appropriate creams right away.
- An outbreak is characterized by small, painful, fluid-filled blisters which usually occur around the mouth, but which can occur less frequently on the chin, in or around the nose, and elsewhere on the body. Cold sores usually don’t form inside the mouth.
- Blisters form, break, crust over, and then heal without leaving a scar. This can take up to 14 days without treatment.
- Some children may experience a low-grade fever.
How do I treat cold sores?
Once your child has contracted the virus that causes cold sores, you can’t make it go away. You can, however, treat the cold sores as they appear. After your child has had a cold sore, the virus lies dormant in his/her skin until it is reactivated, causing another sore. Some kids never get another cold sore. Others may have frequent outbreaks. To prevent outbreaks, ensure your child’s immune system is strong and you can manage this by ensuring your child eats healthy and gets plenty of exercise.
Most cold sores outbreaks last a week to ten days and are easily treated with topical antiviral creams such as idoxuridine or acyclovir (commonly known as Abreva or Zovirax at your local pharmacy). It may also help to have your child hold an ice cube on the area for about five minutes every half hour when they first experience the itching and tingling that signals an oncoming outbreak. Many parents also find that vitamin E oil can be soothing as well as Vaseline as this will keep they area moist and stop it from drying out.
Don’t let your child scratch or pick the affected area because that can cause an infection. Don’t use alcohol to dry the blisters as it may slow healing. Keep the area as moist as possible.
Should I call the doctor?
Always call the doctor if your child contracts the herpes simplex virus and has a compromised immune system from AIDS, cancer, or an organ transplant. Call the doctor immediately if the infection has spread to your child’s eyes or if the sores become infected. If the sores become infected, your doctor may need to prescribe antibiotics.
What you need to know about cold sores
- Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus.
- Cold sores are most often found around the mouth. They are not the same as canker sores which are not caused by a virus and are most often found inside the mouth.
- Cold sores are usually not serious unless the virus spreads to the eyes or other areas of the face.
- Treatment includes topical antiviral creams and antibiotics if the sores become infected.
- Cold sores are highly contagious and it is important to wash your hands after touching it as well as ensuing your child’s hand are washed after touching to reduce spreading to other areas of the face or body.