Cold sores are small and painful blisters that can appear around the mouth, face, or nose. Sometimes referred to as fever blisters, they're caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Kids can get cold sores by kissing or sharing eating utensils with an infected person.
Colds sores in the mouth are very common, and many kids get infected with HSV-1 during the preschool years. The sores usually go away on their own within about a week.
Most kids who get cold sores get infected by eating or drinking from the same utensils as someone who is infected with the herpes virus or by getting kissed by an infected adult.
The cold sores first form blisters on the lips and inside the mouth. The blisters then become sores. In some cases, the gums become red and swollen. In other cases, the virus also leads to a fever, muscle aches, eating difficulties, a generally ill feeling, irritability, and swollen neck glands. These symptoms can last up to 2 weeks.
After a child is initially infected, the virus can lie dormant without causing any symptoms. But it can reactivate later, typically after some sort of stress like other infections, fever, sunlight, cold weather, menstrual periods, or even before a big test at school. When the virus is reactivated, it can cause tingling and numbness around the mouth before blisters appear.
Usually, HSV-1 causes cold sores in the mouth or face, and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) causes lesions in the genital area, resulting in genital herpes. But sometimes, HSV-1 can cause genital lesions as well, especially if someone has received oral sex from an infected partner.
Cold sores from HSV-1 usually go away in about a week. Although no medications can make the infection go away, some treatments are available that can shorten the length of the outbreak and make the cold sores less painful.
Cool foods and drinks can help relieve discomfort, and acetaminophen may also ease the pain. Aspirin should not be given to kids with viral infections since it has been associated with Reye syndrome.
Call the doctor if your child:
Since the virus that causes cold sores is so contagious, it's important to prevent it from spreading to other family members. Precautions to take with kids who have cold sores include:
If you're caring for a child with a cold sore, you also should be sure to wash your hands frequently so that you don't contract the virus or spread it to others.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|Coping With Cold Sores You may have had a cold sore, but what are they exactly? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Mouth and Teeth Our mouth and teeth play an important role in our daily lives. Here's a course on the basics - including common problems of the mouth and teeth.|
|Canker Sores Many people regularly get bothersome canker sores in their mouths. Here's how to help prevent them - and make a kid who has one more comfortable.|
|Canker Sores Have you ever been rankled by a canker sore? If you have, you know that these small mouth sores can cause major pain.|
|Genital Herpes You've probably heard lots of discouraging news about sexually transmitted diseases. The good news is that STDs can be prevented. Read about how to protect yourself.|
|Genital Herpes Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that's usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).|
|Can Cold Sores Be Prevented? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Cold Sores (HSV-1) Cold sores (also known as fever blisters) are pretty common and lots of people get them. So what causes them and what can you do?|
|Canker Sores Canker sores are fairly common, and they usually go away on their own without treatment. Read this article for teens to find out more, including tips on what to do about the pain.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.