Cold sores are small wounds with a red base caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) Type 1. Babies rarely get cold sores in the first six months due to the antibodies they receive from mom. Cold sore are easily treated, but the virus isn't---it stays for life.
Cold sores look similar on both babies and adults. A cold sore may appear individually or in a cluster, usually on or around baby's lips. These small fluid-filled blisters are known for having a red base. A few days after appearing, the blisters will dry up, become crusty and start to scab. These small wounds may get itchy.
Blisters or bumps on baby's face may not be cold sores. Babies are also prone to pimples, which usually are white and red raised bumps, or milia, tiny bumps that newborns are born with. Canker sores, often confused with cold sores, are individual bumps on the tongue or inside the cheeks. Give your baby's health care provider a call if you see a questionable sore or bump on your baby to be sure. A pediatrician will take a culture of the sore to make sure that it's indeed a cold sore and not another condition.
Another misconception with cold sores is that they're caused by the same virus as herpes, the sexually-transmitted disease (STD). Actually, the STD is caused by HSV Type 2, not Type 1.
Babies contract cold sores from an infected person. If you have visible cold sores, you can give your baby the HSV Type 1 virus by sharing eating utensils, drinking from the same cup or, even, through kissing. Try to keep baby away from your cold sore-infected areas until the sore disappears. Also you can administer ibuprofen or acetaminophen to your child or apply ice to the infected area.
Cold sores typically last for seven to 10 days, but the virus remains in a person for life. The virus may lie dormant and never act up---some people with HSV Type 1 don't even realize they carry the virus because they haven't shown any symptoms. Or the virus may act up from time to time and cause cold sores. Sun exposure, stress and fever often trigger the breakout of cold sores. Generally, cold sores start out as a tingling sensation. A fever and swelling may occur during your baby's first outbreak of HSV Type 1.
Cold sores in babies are rare, especially for babies under three months old. Take your baby to the doctor ASAP if he's under three months old and you notice any kind of sore on or around his mouth. In newborns, the otherwise harmless HSV Type 1 virus can affect the brain and other organs, possibility resulting in serious, permanent or fatal health implications. Call your doctor immediately if you notice sores on your newborn or older baby's eyes or eyelids.