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Cold Sores in Children: Care Instructions


Cold sores are clusters of small blisters on the lip and skin around or inside the mouth. Often the first sign of a cold sore is a spot that tingles, burns, or itches. A blister usually forms within 24 hours. The skin around the blisters can be red and inflamed. The blisters can break open, weep a clear fluid, and then scab over after a few days. Cold sores most often heal in 7 to 10 days without a scar. They are sometimes called fever blisters.

Cold sores are caused by a virus called the herpes simplex virus.

Cold sores most often go away on their own. But if they are severe or cause pain, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine to relieve pain and help prevent outbreaks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Tell your child to wash their hands a lot. Tell them to try not to touch the cold sore. This will help to avoid spreading the virus. The virus is more likely to spread if this is your child's first cold sore outbreak.
  • Keep your child's towels and other objects away from other members of your family while your child has a cold sore.
  • Try placing a cold, wet towel on the sore. This may help to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • If your child's doctor prescribed antiviral medicine to relieve pain and help prevent outbreaks, be sure to follow the directions.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Avoid citrus fruit, tomatoes, and other foods that contain acid.
  • Remind your child not to share utensils or kiss anyone while they have a cold sore.

To prevent cold sores in the future

  • Try to get your child to wear a hat to protect their lips from the sun.
  • Using lip balm that contains sunscreen on your child's lips may help reduce outbreaks of cold sores.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's cold sores are painful and you want to try antiviral medicine.
  • Your child has signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from a cold sore.
    • Pus draining from a cold sore.
    • A fever.
  • Your child has a cold sore and develops eye pain, eye discharge, or any vision changes.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • The cold sore does not heal in 7 to 10 days.
  • Your child gets cold sores often.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.