Cold sores or fever blisters erupt inside the lips or cheeks, around the mouth, or near the nose and chin. These itchy and tingly sores might sometimes be painful too. Usually, cold sores are likely to disappear in a couple of weeks after they appear. But what happens when they occur during pregnancy? What should you do about them?
We tell you about it in this MomJunction post. Keep reading to know more about cold sores during pregnancy, why they occur, how to treat them, and much more.
Are Cold Sores Common In Pregnancy?
Women who have had cold sores in the past could have them again when they are pregnant (1). Cold sores commonly appear in and around the mouth. But in some cases, they could occur in the genital tract as well.
Cold sores are not harmful but could be troublesome during pregnancy. That’s why it is better to understand why they occur and treat them accordingly.
What Are The Causes Of Cold Sores During Pregnancy?
The exact causes behind cold sores are not known. But here are some reasons that could trigger their appearance during pregnancy:
- Herpes simplex virus: This virus is of two types, HSV 1 and HSV 2. Cold sores are commonly caused by HSV 1. HSV 2 causes mouth ulcers and blisters around the genital area, but it could also cause cold sores. Once the virus gets into the body, it could remain in a temporarily inactive state, and get activated later due to any reason. The outcome, however, differs from one person to another (2).
- Hormonal changes: During pregnancy, the hormonal levels frequently rise and fall, making the body susceptible to viruses and bacteria. This could be one of the triggers of a cold sores outbreak (3).
- Stress: Emotions such as anxiety and fear could result in stress and trigger the virus, causing cold sores (2).
- Others: Certain foods (acidic, spicy, or salty), citrus fruits, exposure to the sun, and hot water are other common causes that could be responsible for developing cold sores (4).
Cold sores look similar to blisters, and it might be difficult to differentiate them.
[ Read: Mouth Ulcers In Pregnancy ]
Signs And Symptoms Of Cold Sores In Pregnancy
The common signs and symptoms that could indicate cold sores during pregnancy include:
- Swelling of the lips
- Tiny bumps over your lips
- Pains and aches
- Sore throat
Cold sores develop gradually, in five different stages, when you might experience the above symptoms. Understanding the changes in each of these stages might help you take the right steps to prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body.
Stages Of Cold Sores
The cold sores last for seven to 12 days, and during this time, they might progress in different stages (5).
Stage 1: The tingling stage
You may experience a tingling sensation for about a couple of days. The skin (inside your lips, on your lips, or inside the cheeks) might turn sore and red and might even swell and become itchy.
Stage 2: The blister stage
This stage lasts for about two days. During this stage, new blisters may form and spread to other parts in the absence of proper care.
Stage 3: The weeping stage
At this stage, the blisters may burst, and you might experience pain. The cold sores might scab over at this point.
Stage 4: The scabbing stage
The scabs may crack and even bleed. They could be itchy, but make sure you are not poking them.
[ Read: TORCH Infections In Pregnancy ]
Stage 5: The healing stage
In this stage, all the scabs flake off and disappear soon after. Even the scars slowly vanish.
Observe the progress of cold sores and treat them in time to prevent the infection from spreading.
Are Cold Sores Contagious?
According to the University of Texas, cold sores are common and highly contagious (6). The virus may be passed from one person to another. If the bump ruptures, the active virus could spread via lipstick, cups, utensils, kissing, or through oral sex (7).
According to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, HSV 1 or the infection could pass from the infected person to the baby. This usually happens when the person kisses the baby or when the baby is touched after the cold sore is touched (8).
Therefore, it is important to treat the cold sore in pregnancy to prevent the virus from spreading to the baby after it is born.
How To Treat Cold Sores In Pregnancy?
Home care measures for the sores might alleviate pain and discomfort. In some cases, medication may be necessary.
1. Home treatment
- You may try some home remedies to ease the pain and discomfort of cold sores:
- Placing a wet, cool cloth, or towel on the sores may help reduce the redness and pain.
- A mouthwash containing baking soda may also reduce the soreness.
- Apply sunscreen before going outside.
You may apply aloe vera gel or lip balm containing soothing ingredients on the sores.
Before you take any medication for cold sores in pregnancy, talk to your doctor. Ideally, antiviral medications are prescribed to treat cold sores. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the common options include valacyclovir, famciclovir, and acyclovir (9). These fall under pregnancy category B medications of the US Food and Drug Administration.
If the cold sores get severe, the doctor may change the dose or prescribe other treatment.
Are Cold Sores An Early Sign Of Pregnancy?
Cold sores are common, and most pregnant women may experience them. But they may not be an early sign of pregnancy. A woman may get cold sores at any point during the gestation period.
Are Cold Sores During Pregnancy Dangerous Or Harmful To The Baby?
According to the Royal Hospital for Women, Australia, cold sores may not affect the baby. But they are infectious and should be treated in time so that they don’t spread to the infant (1). But if you have genital herpes, then there are chances of the virus transmitting to the baby during the process of childbirth.
To prevent cold sores in pregnancy, follow a well-balanced diet, and get proper rest. If the cold sores appear, try not to touch them. Also, avoid spicy foods and keep your hands sanitized. Though there is nothing to worry about cold sores in pregnancy, you should consult your doctor and get them treated as soon as you can.
[ Read: Tongue Sores During Pregnancy ]
Do you have any experiences to share? Let us know about them in the comments section below.
2. D. B. Donahue; Diagnosis and Treatment of Herpes Simplex Infection During Pregnancy; Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing (2002)
3. Cold sores; University of Wisconsin-Madison
4. Herpes simplex; Mount Sinai
5. Cold Sores; San Diego State University
6. Cold Sores/Fever Blisters; The University of Texas at Austin
7. D. Shipp; How contagious are cold sores?; The Ohio State University (2019)
8. R. Horsager-Boehrer and J. Kahn; How to protect your baby from herpes infection; UT Southwestern Medical Center (2017)
9. ACOG Releases Guidelines on Managing Herpes in Pregnancy; American Academy of Family Physician (2008)
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