Dealing with a Sore Subject: Cold Sores and Canker Sores
When a child’s mouth hurts, it makes it tough to eat or drink. General crankiness usually comes along, too. Cold sores and canker sores are common causes of lip and mouth pain. However, you have to know the difference to know how to best care for these painful annoyances.
Cold Sores 101
Your child says her lip feels funny — like a tingling or burning. The next day, she wakes up with a reddish blister on her lip. She likely has a cold sore, also known as a fever blister.
Cold sores are caused by the Herpes simplex type 1 virus (HSV-1). This very common virus is transmitted through saliva. Kids can catch the virus easily, whether by kissing a person with a cold sore or by sharing a glass, utensils or a towel. Some people infected with the virus never have any symptoms. Others have periodic flare ups. Although dormant, the virus stays in the body and can be reactivated any time, usually during a time of illness, stress or even too much sun.
A cold sore, while harmless, can be uncomfortable. The cold sore may appear as a blister or even a cluster of blisters on the lips or around the outside of the mouth. The area may be swollen and tender and make eating and drinking painful. Within about 7 to 10 days, the blisters will dry and form scabs as they heal.
To alleviate pain, you can give your child over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin. (Do not give aspirin.) Cold or ice packs on the sore can make your child feel better, too. However, don’t use cold sore ointments without your doctor’s advice.
It’s also important to discourage your child from picking at a cold sore. The virus is easily spread to other parts of their body like the eyes. Remind your child to wash his or her hands often, too.
Canker Sores 101
Canker sores are different than cold sores, but they can also make eating and even talking uncomfortable. These small, shallow round sores are white or gray with a bright red circle around them. They’re usually found on the tongue, the lining of the mouth or on the gums.
Most canker sores are relatively minor with simple causes like eating acidic or spicy foods such as citrus fruits, pineapple, grapes and tomatoes. Other causes are from biting the inside of the cheek or lip, or other abrasions such as braces rubbing the cheeks, stress, hormonal factors, reactions to some medications, or from viruses or bacteria.
The good news is canker sores usually only last about a week. To reduce pain and swelling, you can give your child an over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol or Motrin or try sucking on ice pops. To help prevent canker sores, avoid the irritating foods or rinse your child’s mouth with warm water after eating.
As with any illness, if your child’s sores — whether cold sores or canker sores – have not improved after a week or symptoms have worsened, call your pediatrician.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact St. Louis Children's Hospital at 314.454.5437 or 800.578.5437 or email us.