“A kiss is still a kiss,” the old song goes. But a kiss can also make you sick. Germs that live in saliva spread easily through kissing. The infections they cause -- surprise, surprise -- are common among teenagers.
Your teen can try to protect himself by avoiding kissing if he suspects someone is sick. But never kissing is pretty impractical. If you know the early signs of infection, however, you can head off some of the worst symptoms.
Mononucleosis: The "Kissing Disease"
Infectious mononucleosis is caused by Epstein-Barr virus, which can be found in saliva. Mono shows up most often between the ages of 10 and 19.
What mono feels like: It's easy to mistake mono for the flu at first. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. If you have flu symptoms that don't seem to be going away, talk to your doctor.
What you can do: There's no vaccine for mono and no specific medication to treat the infection. But there's plenty your teen can do to feel better. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to relieve achiness and to lower fever. If the throat is sore, try gargling with salt water or using throat lozenges. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.
What to expect: Mono usually goes away on its own in two to four weeks. But in some cases, the symptoms may linger for several months or longer.
Preventing and Not Spreading Cold Sores
Cold sores are painful blisters on the mouth, lips, or nose. The culprit is herpes simplex virus, which spreads through kissing or close contact.
What cold sores feel like: Your teen may notice a tingling or burning sensation at first. Then a painful, fluid-filled blister forms. Cold sores can be very raw looking and take several days to a week to heal.
What to do: To prevent cold sores, avoid contact with people who have sores on their lips or mouths. Once you've had a cold sore, you're likely to get them again. Several medicated creams, including both over-the-counter and prescription brands, can speed healing when you have a cold sore. The catch is that you have to apply them as soon as possible after symptoms appear. If you've already had one cold sore, it’s wise to keep a medicated cream handy.
If your teen keeps getting cold sores, talk to your doctor. An antiviral medication in pill form is also available by prescription for serious infections. If your teen has symptoms of a cold sore, tell him to avoid kissing people to prevent spreading the virus. Don't share drinking glasses, spoons and forks, toothbrushes, or other items that can spread it.
What to expect: Cold sores go away on their own. But because the virus can hang out in nerve cells, they may come back. Luckily, they tend to get less severe over time.