Cold sores (which are also often known as fever blisters) are those small sores which usually appear on and above the upper lip. They are very common and easily spread.
Would you believe that there are about 100 million recurring infections annually in the US alone?
Why do cold sores start?
This annoying and often painful viral infection is caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus (HPV1). The virus tends to remain dormant in the nerve cells until your immune system is weakened and then flares up. Your body can be weak or stressed out if you have been ill, if you are not eating right or if you're not getting enough sleep. Eating a healthy well balanced diet consisting of vegetables, fruits and lean meat keeps the immune system alert and active. Plenty of rest and a good sleeping pattern also boosts the immune system and prevents cold sores.
When a cold sore
is about to appear, there will be a tingling sensation in the area affected, then redness, then the cold sore will start to form as very small blisters. When a red sore starts to appear, this becomes a very painful and contagious blister. Towards the end of the cycle, the cold sore starts to heal when a brown scab forms over the area. Finally the cold sore goes from brown to yellow. The whole cycle takes about ten days.
Everyone, whatever their age, finds it difficult and embarrassing to put up with a cold sore. Most people contract the cold sore virus when they are young and it is spread in saliva or mucus that comes from the nose and mouth. Cold sores can be particularly severe for babies but fortunately the initial infection in young children is usually so mild that it goes unnoticed. There may be some blisters in the mouth.
Try and protect your small children from picking up the cold sore virus in the first place
But as anyone with young children knows, this can be very difficult. Toddlers are always running up to hug and kiss other children or they put shared toys or even pacifiers belonging to other children into their mouths. And you would not want to segregate your child to the extent that he would suffer from lack of stimulation and the natural development of social skills and interaction with other children. It is just as easy for the virus to spread within the family unit itself.
If you fear that skin contact has been made with another child or adult with a cold sore, then make sure to wash all areas touched by the infected skin immediately. Lather up the affected skin area with plenty of soap and water.
There is more that you can do
- Follow a few preventative steps. Keep your child’s lips moisturized with a protective lip balm. HSV can only infect the body if there is an opening in the skin such as a cut, scratch or crack. The lip balm keeps the lips moisturized while preventing them from cracking or splitting thereby reducing the number of ways HSV can enter through the skin. Look at lip balms with at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 to protect the lips from the sun as too much sun can dry out lips making them more prone to splits or cracks.
- If your child is attending a child care facility or perhaps a “mothers and babies” group, there should be a policy in place (a) that all children and adults use good hand washing or sanitizing practices with no sharing of towels (b) that a child suffering from cold sores is excluded and stays at home until these are healed and (c) that toys that are put into the mouth are removed form the play area and disinfected.
- In addition, if you are borrowing or hiring toys from the public library or toy hire facility, then take care to disinfect all the items immediately after you reach home and before your young children have a chance to play with them. It would be a kind gesture to repeat the disinfecting routine before returning them again at the end of the loan or hire period.
- A toothbrush can harbor the herpes virus for days, re-infecting the sufferer after the current cold sore heals, so throw the toothbrush away. During an outbreak your toothbrush should be replaced at the beginning, again after the blister develops and then once again after the sore has completely healed.
The herpes virus needs arginine as an essential amino acid for its metabolism. Arginine rich foods are chocolate, cola, peas, grain cereals, peanuts, gelatin, cashews and beers so avoid all these if you or your child is prone to cold sores.
With a little extra vigilance and some common sense, you can keep your child free of HPV or reduce the pain of suffering if he already carries the cold sore virus.