What is Herpetic Stomatitis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 March 2020
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Herpetic stomatitis is a common condition among infants and young children that results in sores, irritation, and swelling in the mouth. It is caused by a form of the herpes simplex virus, an incurable infection that is likely to return in the form of stomatitis or cold sores throughout a person's life. A child with an active infection may have painful blisters on the inner lips, tongue, cheeks, or the roof of the mouth. Herpetic stomatitis tends to resolve without treatment in about ten days, though pediatricians usually suggest that children who show signs of the condition be brought in so that proper diagnoses can be made.

Herpes is a widespread, persistent virus, and the form that causes herpetic stomatitis can be transmitted in a number of ways. A child can acquire the infection if he or she eats or drinks after a parent, sibling, or peer who has an active outbreak. A parent with a cold sore may transmit the virus by kissing his or her child on the lips. In many cases, it is unclear where a young person picks up the herpes virus.


In addition to blisters, herpetic stomatitis can cause swelling of the tongue and throat that can potentially cause breathing and swallowing difficulties. It is common for a child to refuse food and complain of a sore throat. Some children have high fevers, leading to weakness, fatigue, nausea, and chills. It is possible to have outbreaks of herpetic stomatitis as an adult, but herpes is more likely to manifest as a cold sore in older individuals with stronger immune systems.

A parent who notices possible signs of herpetic stomatitis should schedule an appointment with a pediatrician as soon as possible. In the doctor's office, the pediatrician can usually make an accurate diagnosis by simply examining the oral sores and asking about symptoms. He or she may decide to extract a sample of saliva or a piece of tissue from an open blister for laboratory testing. Once herpes has been definitively found, the doctor can help parents determine the best treatment options.

Most cases of herpetic stomatitis are short-lived, causing symptoms that last for less than two weeks on average. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications can help relieve symptoms and shorten the healing time of a severe outbreak. Pediatricians commonly suggest oral anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and topical anesthetics to relieve pain and irritation. A patient who has a severe fever may need to be hospitalized so intravenous fluids and medications can be administered. Children who suffer chronically recurring outbreaks might be prescribed daily medications to reduce the severity and frequency of problems.


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