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Cold Sores: Brief Version

What are cold sores?

When your child has cold sores, or fever blisters, you can expect to see:

  • A cluster of small, painful bumps or blisters on the outer lip
  • Sores on one side of the mouth only
  • Tingling or burning on the outer lip at the same place the cold sores were before

The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores. The sores happen the first time after getting it from someone who has herpes. After the first time, the virus lives inside the nerves of the skin. A few people get the cold sores again and again. The cold sores could come back because of things like being cold, tired, or stressed, or having a sunburn or fever.

How can I take care of my child?

Here's what you can do if your child gets cold sores:

  • If there is tingling, but no sores yet, put an ice cube or ice pack on the lip for 20 minutes.
  • Get a special cold sore ointment called docosanol (Abreva). Put this on as soon as any small bumps appear. You can also put on petroleum jelly 4 times a day.
  • Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain.
  • Get special antiherpes pills. Your doctor must prescribe these pills.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • If there are any sores near the eye.
  • The sores last longer than 2 weeks.
  • You have questions about antiherpes pills.
  • You have other worries or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-22
Last reviewed: 2012-05-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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