Cold Sores in Teens: Care Instructions

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Your 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. They are sometimes called fever blisters. 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 often heal in 7 to 10 days with no scar.

Cold sores are caused by a virus. The virus is spread by skin-to-skin contact. That means that if you have a cold sore and kiss another person, that person could get a cold sore too.

This is the same virus that causes some cases of genital herpes. So if you have a cold sore and have oral sex with someone, that person could get a sore in the genital area.

Cold sores will often go away on their own. But if they embarrass you or cause a lot of pain, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine. It can relieve pain and help prevent outbreaks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Wash your hands often. And try not to touch your cold sores. This will help to avoid spreading the virus to your eyes or genital area or to other people. This is more likely to happen if this is your first cold sore outbreak.
  • Place ice or a cool, wet towel on the sores 3 times a day for 20 minutes each time. This will help reduce redness and swelling.
  • If you are just getting a cold sore, try using over-the-counter docosanol (Abreva) cream to reduce symptoms.
  • If your doctor prescribed antiviral medicine to relieve pain and help prevent outbreaks, be sure to follow the directions.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), as needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not take 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.
  • Use over-the-counter ointments, such as Anbesol or Orajel, to numb sore areas in the mouth or on the lips.
  • Do not kiss or have oral sex with anyone while you have a cold sore.

To prevent cold sores in the future

  • Avoid long exposure of your lips to sunlight. (Wear a hat to help shade your mouth.)
  • Use lip balm that contains sunscreen, which may help reduce outbreaks of cold sores.
  • Avoid foods that seem to cause your cold sores to come back.
  • Do not share towels, razors, silverware, toothbrushes, or other objects with a person who has a cold sore.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your symptoms are painful and you want to try antiviral medicine.
  • You have 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.
  • You have a cold sore and develop eye pain, eye discharge, or any changes in your vision.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • The cold sore does not heal in 7 to 10 days.
  • You get cold sores often.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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