Toddler Cold Sore

Cold sores are caused by either the Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) or Type II (HSV-2), with Type I most often responsible for cold sores, and Type II responsible for genital herpes. Children who get toddler cold sores most often acquire the virus by playing with toys that have been exposed to the virus, by sharing a utensil or cup, or through being kissed by someone who is infected.

Other associated symptoms

Generally, when your child first gets the simplex virus, it will be accompanied by blisters throughout the mouth, as well as some significant soreness in the same area. It’s also possible for your child to experience inflammation of the gums, swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, and possibly even a fever. This may all sound like a catalog of nasty medical conditions, but they are generally fairly mild in nature, and you may not even notice them. If your child does notice them, he/she may not be able to express exactly what's happening, so it's entirely possible that you may not even be aware that your child has the herpes simplex virus.

In most cases, your child's condition will improve in about two weeks, as far as the symptoms go. However, that virus will live on in your child's body for the rest of his/her life, remaining dormant for most of the time without ever manifesting. For some people, the infection never occurs again, while for others, it periodically has a flareup and produces the telltale cold sores over again.

After your child's primary herpes, i.e. the very first occurrence of it during youth, the secondary symptoms of fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, and gum inflammation will probably not recur. However, the cold sores will always be there to make an appearance during all subsequent flareups of the herpes simplex virus.

Dangers associated with cold sores

The cold sores that your toddler incurs during an outbreak of the herpes simplex virus represent no real danger to the child's health, either at the time of the actual outbreak, or in the future. It is possible though, for the herpes simplex virus to be distributed throughout the body, and that can definitely present a danger.

Any child who contracts a cold sore within three months of being born is particularly at risk, and should be taken to a doctor right away. Very young toddlers and babies are most at risk from having the herpes simplex virus spread to organs throughout the body, including the brain. If this happens, it can cause permanent and serious damage to those organs, and the damage may even prove fatal.

Beyond three months, there is less danger to your child, but you should still do everything possible to prevent your child from touching their eyes after touching a cold sore. If the virus is spread to the eyes, it can trigger a very serious infection which can cause permanent damage. If a sore develops on your child's eyelid or on the actual surface of the eye, medical attention must be sought immediately, and most likely antiviral drugs will be administered, so that your child's cornea is not scarred permanently. This type of infection is called ocular herpes, and it has the potential to cause permanent blindness, or to seriously degrade your child's vision.

How cold sores are diagnosed

While the herpes simplex virus type I is generally recognizable by its appearance around the mouth, it will take a laboratory test to confirm HSV type II in a patient. Almost anyone is capable of recognizing the lesions which appear around the child's mouth, and are characteristic of HSV type I, so it's entirely possible that someone whom your child comes in contact with will identify it even before you do.

The cold sores which are associated with HSV type I have a significantly different appearance than canker sores do, although the two are often confused. Canker sores are identifiable by a whitish area in the center of the lesion, whereas cold sores are pretty much entirely red, and are often accompanied by blisters or by crusting around the perimeter. If there is any visual doubt as to whether your toddler has canker sores or cold sores, laboratory tests can be taken, using viral cultures and blood tests to confirm a diagnosis of HSV-1.

Treating a cold sore

Although a cold sore will go away on its own after about two weeks, there are some steps you can take in the meantime which will alleviate the discomfort your toddler may be feeling. If your child has sores inside the mouth, that may seriously hinder his/her ability to chew food comfortably, so you should consult with your doctor right away to have that addressed. For less threatening symptoms of the virus, the following steps can be taken:

  • use an over-the-counter ointment to reduce the pain and to assist with healing, but be sure to check the instructions on the package relative to your child's age
  • try to avoid acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, because these can make the cold sore more uncomfortable
  • administer the appropriate dosage of a pain reliever to your child, for instance acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your child is less than six months old, you should consult with your doctor before using any kind of pain reliever.
  • use a cool, wet cloth with ice packed inside to apply to the area of the sore, so as to keep the swelling and redness under control
  • medications – there are several medications which can be used to treat cold sores in cases where the symptoms are fairly severe, or when your toddler is bothered by them significantly. Zovirax is one medication which can reduce the amount of time that someone is eligible to spread the disease, and can also speed up the time needed for healing. This medication can be used as a cream when cold sores recur, and it should be applied as soon as an infection is identified, with follow-up applications four or five times a day. Famvir is a medication which can be taken on a one-time only basis, so as to reduce the time needed for healing. Valtrex is a medication that also reduces the time needed for healing, and it should be administered in two separate doses over the course of a day. Abreva cream is an over-the-counter medication which is often used for recurring cold sores. It is considered to be less effective than some of the other medical treatments, especially for persistent cold sores, but in mild cases it is useful.

How to avoid secondary flareups

After a toddler’s primary exposure to the herpes simplex virus and that initial outbreak, there's a great deal of variance in whether or not your child ever experiences a secondary flareup. Some people never experience another cold sore outbreak for the rest of their lives, while others have recurring flareups periodically. In order to avoid repeated outbreaks of the herpes simplex virus, here are some of the best prevention steps which can be taken:

  • avoid excessive fatigue and extensive stress
  • try to limit exposure to direct intense sunlight
  • for some people extremes of heat, cold, or dryness act as triggers for outbreak, so if it is observed that these are your child's triggers, reduce his/her exposure to them accordingly
  • illnesses such as colds or flu
  • dehydration
  • an unhealthy diet
  • relatively severe injuries to the skin
  • strongly fluctuating hormones, such as those that occur during the teens years, or during menstruation.

Preventing the spread of cold sores

Herpes simplex virus is extremely contagious, and very little is required in order for it to be passed on to another person. Even a quick peck on an infected lip will cause the virus to be passed on to the person kissing the toddler. To prevent cold sores from being transmitted to other persons:

  • avoid sharing cups, glasses, and eating utensils, because all of these are likely to be infected
  • avoid kissing your child anywhere near the mouth area until the cold sore has completely disappeared. Although it may be cumbersome and a little heartbreaking, infants should probably be covered with a surgical mask to prevent the spread of the herpes virus.
  • make sure your child washes his/her hands regularly
  • do everything possible to prevent your child from rubbing or picking at the cold sore. One successful technique calls for putting socks or mittens on your child's hands during sleep hours.
  • do not allow your child to share toys with any other children
  • make sure your child does not kiss any other toddlers, children, or adults
  • don't allow your child to share drinks or food with anyone else
  • since exposure to sunlight can trigger an outbreak of the simplex virus, you should make note of when your child experiences flareups. If flareups seem to occur directly after exposure to sunlight, you may need to consider some protective measures.