Cold sores are small painful blisters that can appear around the mouth, face, or
nose. Cold sores (or fever blisters) are very common. They usually
go away on their own within 1 to 2 weeks.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Cold Sores?
Cold sores first form blisters on the lips, around the mouth, and sometimes inside
the mouth. The blisters then become sores, which can make eating painful. They're
filled with fluid, but crust over and form a scab before they go away.
Sometimes the virus causes redness and swelling of the gums, fever, muscle aches,
a generally ill feeling, and swollen neck glands.
After a child first gets HSV-1, the virus can lie quietly in the body without causing
any symptoms. But it can wake up again later from things like:
When the virus reactivates, it can cause tingling and numbness around the mouth
before blisters appear.
What Causes Cold Sores?
The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores. This is a different
from herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-2 causes lesions in the
genital area called genital herpes.
Even though HSV-1 typically causes sores around the mouth and HSV-2 causes genital
sores, these viruses can cause sores in either place.
How Do Kids Get Cold Sores?
Kids can get HSV-1 by kissing or touching a person with cold sores, or by sharing
eating utensils, towels, or other items with an infected person. Many kids get infected
with HSV-1 during the preschool years.
How Are Cold Sores Treated?
Cold sores usually go away in about 1 to 2 weeks. No medicines can make the virus
go away, but some treatments can help make cold sores less painful and not last as
Cold compresses can help with discomfort.
Prescription or over-the-counter treatments are sometimes recommended by the doctor.
Cool foods and drinks can help make kids more comfortable.
may ease pain. Don't give aspirin to kids with viral infections,
as it's linked to a rare but serious illness called Reye
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if your child:
is younger than 6 months old and gets a cold sore
has a weakened immune system,
which could allow the HSV infection to spread and cause problems in other parts of
has sores that don't heal by themselves within 2 weeks
has any sores near the eyes or irritation of the eyes
gets cold sores a lot
Can Cold Sores Be Prevented?
The virus that causes cold sores is very contagious. To help prevent it from spreading
to others, anyone with a cold sore should:
Keep their drinking glasses and eating utensils, as well as washcloths and towels,
separate from those used by other family members and wash these items well after use.