Cold Sores and HSV-1

Teen cold sores are a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. Cold sores cause teens discomfort, and can sometimes lead to more serious infections. There is no cure for cold sores, but there are treatments for teens with cold sores, and teens who are not infected can prevent cold sores by taking some simple precautions.

Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are small, often painful blisters on the lip and outer edge of the mouth. The skin around the blisters may be inflamed and red. Cold sore blisters can break open and weep a clear fluid, then scab over after a few days. It can take 7 to 10 days for cold sores to heal. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Though HSV-2, most commonly associated with genital herpes, can cause cold sores, they are usually caused by HSV-1, another strain of the herpes virus. HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes if spread to the genitals. Once a teen has HSV it always stays in his or her body, and can cause outbreaks periodically.

Some symptoms of cold sores in teens can include:

  • Tingling, burning, numbness, itching, or pain around the mouth before an outbreak
  • Sores on the lips and in and around the mouth
  • A sore mouth that interferes with eating, drinking, and sleeping
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Cold sore outbreaks in teens can be triggered by a number of causes, including:

  • Exposure to sun
  • Stress or fatigue
  • Infections with other illnesses, including colds or the flu
  • Allergies
  • Irritation of the lips or mouth, such as through an injury, dental treatment, or cosmetic treatments
  • Hormonal changes, especially in teen girls during their menstrual cycle

Teens with cold sores can reduce outbreaks by:

Avoiding prolonged exposure of your face to the sun, such as by wearing a hat and using sunscreen (use lip balm with sunscreen on lips)

  • Avoiding foods or other irritants that trigger outbreaks
  • Learning healthy ways to manage stress
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough rest

Though cold sores generally go away on their own, there are some things teens can do to treat cold sores and reduce discomfort associated with outbreaks:

  • Don’t pick at cold sores; this slows healing and can spread the infection to other parts of your body.
  • Place a cool, damp towel on sores for 20 minutes three times a day to reduce swelling and redness. Eating cold foods may also help.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the pain; teens should never take aspirin.
  • Rinse your mouth with a baking soda rinse.
  • Avoid acidic foods like citrus or tomatoes.
  • Use a nonprescription medicated ointment to numb sore areas, or talk to a doctor about prescription medications for cold sores.

If you do not have cold sores, you can avoid getting them by being careful. Especially:

  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing or sexual relations, with anyone who has cold sores or genital herpes. Remember that the herpes virus can be spread by sexual contact even when no symptoms are present, so it is best for teens to abstain from sexual relations, or always use a condom if they choose to have sex. Condoms reduce the chances of getting the herpes virus, but do not completely protect against it.
  • Do not share towels, razors, toothbrushes, drinking cups, silverware, chewing gum, or anything else that a person with cold sores may have used.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.

Many teens do get cold sores, but by taking good care of their body and being careful not to spread HSV-1 to other parts of their body or other people, teens can usually manage cold sores so they cause minimal disruptions to a teen’s life and well being.

Teen Cold Sores and HSV-1 Sources:

  1. WebMD, Cold Sores [online]
  2. Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth, “Coping with Cold Sores” [online]