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Cold Sores and Babies: Can Cold Sores Harm my Child?

As a parent, you always prioritize your child's health. While you want to snuggle and kiss your little one no matter what, this can be ill-advised if you have a cold sore. In this article, we'll take a look at why cold sores can be so harmful to young babies and explain what to do if your baby develops a cold sore. 

How Do Babies Get Cold Sores?

Babies get cold sores the same way as older children and adults: through close contact with someone who carries the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). While transmission is most likely from someone who has an active cold sore (or is about to get a cold sore and is already experiencing pre-breakout symptoms), anyone who has the virus is capable of passing it on to someone else. While it's also possible for an infant to get a cold sore if their mother has an active genital herpes outbreak while giving birth, doctors can work with the mother and provide several interventions to drastically lower the risk of transmission. 

The most common method of adult-to-infant transmission is when an adult who has a cold sore, or is about to have a cold sore, kisses an infant. It's also possible for a baby to contract the virus if they breastfeed from a mother experiencing an HSV blister on or near her breast, or if she feeds a baby with milk expressed from the breast with an active infection. 

Small babies do not have fully developed immune systems and are particularly susceptible to contracting infections and illnesses in the first month of life. At any stage of life, an individual’s first HSV outbreak is typically the most severe, because the body needs to develop the ability to fight the virus. In small babies, this process can be especially grueling and dangerous. 

Neonatal Herpes: The Risks

While infants can develop cold sores as a result of being exposed to the herpes simplex virus, their reaction is often much more serious than experiencing a common sore. Infants may develop a condition known as neonatal herpes, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Initial symptoms of neonatal herpes can include: 

  • Blisters anywhere on the body, including on and around the mouth
  • Irritability
  • Bleeding easily
  • Trouble breathing
  • Grunting
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat

Of course, if your baby is struggling to breathe or is experiencing any concerning symptoms, it's essential to seek emergency treatment as soon as possible. 

Three Types of Infections

When a baby develops neonatal herpes, the virus can take hold in three different ways:

  • Localized skin infection – A localized skin infection is like what is recognized as a cold sore in adults. In this category of neonatal herpes, babies develop small, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth and the eyes. They may also experience discomfort while eating. 
  • Encephalitis – In this more severe category, HSV causes swelling of the brain, which can cause neural and spinal problems. Seizures can be a symptom of this type of infection. 
  • Disseminated herpes infection – The most dangerous type of herpes simplex infection, this spreads throughout an infant's body, and can affect the kidneys, lungs, brain, liver, and more. This can eventually lead to meningitis. 

Children who develop the herpes simplex virus may only show a few symptoms, and their symptoms may take time to develop. Most symptoms will develop within the first week of the initial infection, but central nervous symptom issues may not become apparent until the second week. 

While many babies make a full recovery from neonatal herpes, some do not. Though rare, encephalitis and disseminated herpes infections can be deadly. If you notice your baby has symptoms of herpes, be sure to take them to seek professional treatment right away. 

Prevention Is Key

Many new parents fall into the trap of trying to be polite to every relative who wants to hold, kiss, and touch their baby, but this can be dangerous, especially in the first few weeks of life. 

If you decide to allow relatives and friends to come around your baby in the first few weeks after they're born, be sure to ask that everyone follow the same protocols:

  • If they're sick, or if they think they may be getting a cold sore, stay home. 
  • Do not come to see the baby with an active cold sore. 
  • Wash hands with soapy warm water before holding the baby. 
  • Do not kiss the baby, even if you don't feel sick. 

While it can feel uncomfortable to enforce rules around people who simply want to show your baby affection, it's key to protect your baby's health. Many people don't consider the risks a simple kiss can pose to an infant. Explaining your rationale for your rules may help friends and loved ones understand.

Think Your Child Was Exposed? What To Do Next

If you're frantically searching the internet for "I have a cold sore and kissed my baby," know that you're not the first person to do so, and it's highly likely that your baby will be fine. It can be nerve wracking to think that your child may have been exposed to herpes simplex, especially if they're very young. Being aware of the signs of neonatal herpes is important. 

If you absent-mindedly kissed your baby when you had a cold sore, it's important to keep an eye out for signs of neonatal herpes. If your child is older, the situation is less serious, but continue to monitor them for blisters, swollen lymph nodes, or a sore throat. 

Reach out to your pediatrician if your baby is less than six months old and you think they may have been exposed to a cold sore. For older children, home remedies and treatments can help ease the annoyances common to cold sores. 

Treatment Options

There are several ways to treat cold sores at home. While you'll want to run any home treatment options by your pediatrician for babies and children, there are several options available for family use. 

Antiviral supplements may be effective in activating the body's natural healing mechanisms. In addition to using therapies that reduce the time that a cold sore will be active, applying a cold compress can also help to ease the discomfort of a cold sore. It's also a good idea to avoid common cold sore triggers and use a lip balm with sun protection to protect the area from being damaged while your child is outside. 

Should your family suffer from frequent cold sores, consider the Luminance RED. The Luminance RED is a non-invasive, effective option that helps both children and adults quickly heal from cold sores. This low-level laser therapy stimulates the skin's natural healing mechanisms, providing your immune cells with the energy to effectively attack a cold sore outbreak. The Luminance RED puts safety first, and the clinical data shows no negative side effects when the treatment is used by children. Still, we encourage you to consult with your child’s doctor before using it to treat their cold sores. Click here to learn more about how the Luminance RED can help treat your family’s cold and canker sores.