What You Should Know About Cold Sores during Pregnancy
Cold sores can happen anytime. In fact, nine out of ten adults experience one or more cold sores over a lifetime. Still, you’re more likely to get one when you’re pregnant. The reason? It’s probably a combination of hormonal changes and stress. Everything gets a little out of whack when you’re pregnant!
What Causes Cold Sores?
Cold sores are caused by a virus, the herpes simplex virus. The herpes simplex virus is of two different types – herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2. Herpes simplex 1 causes cold sores around the mouth while herpes simplex 2 is the cause of genital herpes, blisters that form in your genital region.
Knowing that viruses are contagious, you might worry that you’ll pass the virus to your unborn baby if you have a cold sore when you’re pregnant. The virus isn’t contagious in that sense – the virus from a cold sore on your face can’t pass through the placenta to your unborn baby. Yet they are contagious through direct contact, meaning if you have a cold sore and kiss a newborn baby or touch them after touching a cold sore blister, you could spread the virus to them.
Babies and the Cold Sore Virus
The other form of herpes virus, herpes simplex 2, the type that causes sores on the genitals, can infect a baby as it passes out of the birth canal during delivery. That’s why genital sores caused by the herpes simplex virus are a concern when you’re pregnant.
As far as spreading the cold sore virus to your baby, it’s more likely to happen after you give birth. If you have a cold sore, it’s important not to touch a newborn with your hands and not to kiss them with a sore or blister on your face. Wear gloves and a surgical mask to avoid spreading the virus to them.
If a newborn baby becomes infected with the virus that causes cold sores or genital sores, they can become seriously ill with a condition called neonatal herpes. This illness can affect a baby’s eyes and nervous system and lead to blindness, brain damage, or death. Fortunately, it’s rare.
Signs and Symptoms of a Cold Sore
How do you know if you have a cold sore? Cold sores look like fever blisters and usually show up around the outside of your lips or near your nose. You might experience a little burning or tingling in the region before the cold sore shows up. Once the blister appears, it’s usually tender and filled with fluid. If you have more than one, the blisters may coalesce together and then crust over before going away.
Fortunately, cold sores usually clear up on their own within 2 weeks. In the meantime, what can you do? There are prescription ointments and creams you can apply to the cold sore that may shorten its duration. You have to use these products as soon as you develop the sore for them to be effective. Don’t use anything to treat a cold sore while pregnant without consulting your doctor first. Also, be sure to let your doctor know if you develop cold sores or genital sores while pregnant.
MedLine Plus. “Pregnancy and Herpes”
US Pharmacist. 2007;32(4):16-23.