Oral herpes, or cold sores, start as small blisters around the mouth and lip, but they can sometimes appear on the cheeks, nose, or chin. After two or three days, the blisters form a yellow crust, and within one or two weeks, they disappear completely. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus-1, and once infected, although the virus can become inactive for long periods of time, it will remain present in the nervous system. This means it can reactivate at any time, especially if the child has a weak immune system, falls ill, or is exposed to direct sunlight.
The most common symptoms of cold sores in a child
Symptoms of cold sores can differ in each child. Some don’t experience any symptoms of the infection, while others may have flu-like symptoms and develop ulcers inside their mouth.
However, the most common symptoms of cold sores in children include:
- Small blisters around the mouth or on the lips that get bigger after two or three days before leaking fluid
- Itching, tingling or irritation around the lips or mouth
- Feeling sore around the lips and mouth, which can last from three days to seven days
Cold sore treatment for children
Cold sore treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, their general health, as well as how severe the condition is. Although cold sores can’t be cured, there are some treatments available to help ease the symptoms. These include:
- Over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol or acetaminophen
- Cold sore gel
- Apply a water-based zinc ointment to dry out the cold sore and help it heal quicker
- Anti-viral tablets or creams
- Cold compresses can help soothe the pain
You should avoid giving your child acidic or spicy foods as they can make the condition worse. If your child is over the age of 4, consider using the following treatments:
- Apply an over-the-counter numbing gel on the cold sores to relieve pain.
- Prepare a warm saltwater mixture with baking soda and have your child rinse their mouth twice a day. Make sure they don’t swallow the mouth rinse.
What parents can do to stop the spread
There are effective steps parents can take to prevent their children from spreading the virus during a flareup. These include:
- Preventing your child from picking at the cold sore or scratching it as this can spread the virus to other parts of their body or pass it on to others
- Encourage your child to wash their hands regularly
- Wash your child’s toys often
- Don’t let your child share towels, cups, utensils, toothpaste, or any other items in order to avoid spreading the infection
- Don’t let your child kiss others or be kissed. You should also avoid kissing them during flareups.
- Make sure they don’t rub their eyes
- Keep the child away from direct sunlight or use lip balm before sun exposure
To prevent your child from getting a cold sore in the first place, the best thing you can do is to ensure their immune system remains strong by including plenty of healthy foods in their diet. Getting lots of sleep and regular exercise will also help prevent your child from being susceptible to infections of all kinds.
When to see a doctor
You should take your child to the doctor if the following occur:
- The cold sores are starting to spread to other parts of the child’s body. This may be an indication of a secondary infection, which needs treatment with antibiotics
- If your child has a fever
- Your child isn’t drinking fluids. This can result in dehydration and make the pain worse
- Your child has flareups several times a year
- Your child develops a cold or flu, or feels drowsy, hallucinates, or has a seizure