Canker sores and cold sores are lesions that anyone can have. The both have similar triggers but they are never the same. Most people use to get confused, not knowing the difference between the two. Your mouth sometimes shows how healthy your body is. When the strength of the immune system is low, most people do experience cold sore and canker sore at the same time.
It’s very important for you to know the the difference between canker sores and cold sores. Identifying these sores at their earliest stage can help to treat them effectively. Well, my purpose of writing this article is to show you some of their unique characteristics. I will also add some pictures to help you understand the symptoms better. Now, let’s look at canker sores first.
Canker sores also known as aphthous lesions or mouth ulcers, are small, painful ulcers that often appear in the soft tissues of the mouth, tongue and gums. These sores are very painful and can make eating, swallowing and talking uncomfortable.
The canker sores are divided into three main types, which includes:
1. Simple canker sores. These are canker sores that often develop three or four times a year. People between the ages of 10 to 20 years have more simple canker sores than other people. The symptoms are always minimal and the sores only last up to a week and heals on their own.
2. Complex canker sores. These types of canker sores are less common and usually comes with severe symptoms. People that have had simple canker sores before are more likely to have complex canker sores more often. These sores equally heals on their own, but they take a bit longer.
3. Herpetiform canker sores. These type of canker sores are not caused by virus, they usually develop later in life and are about the size of a pinpoint. Herpetiform canker sores often develop in clusters ranging from 10 to 100 sores at the same time. Sometimes the sores tend to all merge together.
Normally, canker sores heal on their own within one or two weeks. You should see your dentist or doctor as soon as possible if you have chronically occurring canker sores or if the sores are abnormally large and doesn’t seem to be healing on their own.
The exact cause of canker sores is quite unknown. But there are certain triggers that are believed that they can contribute to recurring canker sores. Stress or minor tissue injuries in the mouth (caused by sharp tooth surface or dental appliance, aggressive teeth brushing, cheek bite, sports accident, etc) is thought to be the cause of simple canker sores. An allergic reaction to particular bacteria in your mouth and certain foods such as citrus or acidic fruits and vegetables can trigger a canker sore or make the problem worse.
In the other hand, complex canker sores are thought to be caused by an underlying health condition. People with impaired immune system, increased hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies of vitamin B-12, zinc, folic acid, or iron, or with gastrointestinal tract disease, such as celiac disease or crohn’s disease are more likely to have complex canker sores more often.
Small, painful sores inside your mouth, under the tongue, on the soft palate (the back portion of the roof of your mouth), or inside your cheek or lips, or at the base of your gum line.
- Canker sores are usually circle or oval in shape.
- The sores are yellow or white in color, and have a red edge or border.
- A tingling or burning sensation before the sores appear.
- The sores causes severe discomforts and difficulty in eating, drinking, and talking.
- Physical sluggishness and swollen lymph nodes (only in severe cases though).
Anyone can have canker sores multiple times in their lifetime. Women and teenagers are more prone to getting these sores more often. The pain and discomforts from a canker sores generally lessens in a few days. They usually heal on their own even without treatment in about a week or two. Although, there are available treatments options and remedies that provides faster healing and complete relief of the symptoms. Here are some of ways to treat canker sores:
- Rinse your mouth daily with warm saltwater.
- Rinse your mouth with a mixture of baking soda and warm water.
- Apply some milk of magnesia and honey on your canker sores.
- Try topical medications and gels which have effective numbing ingredients like benzocaine.
- Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel, over the sores to reduce the pain and inflammation if there is any.
- Brush with only soft-bristled brush after meals and floss daily with suitable mouthwash. Also, avoid foods that might irritate the sores.
- Reduce your stress. Stress has been linked to recurring canker sores. Learn and try as much as possible to reduce your stress situations by practicing meditation or listening to relaxing music.
- Eat healthy meals. Always eat healthy, well-balanced diet that contains all the necessary nutrients and minerals needed for maintaining a healthy oral tissues and immune system. Eat lots of vegetables which contains high number of fiber and phytonutrients.
- Boost your immune system. Eat healthy foods and also sleep better to keep your immune system strong at all times. Certain nutrients such as vitamin A, D, E, and K2 are great for boosting your immune system and helping your body get rid and also prevent both canker and cold sores naturally.
- Avoid canker sores triggers. Try to avoid foods and oral habits that tend to irritate your mouth and cause minor injuries. Avoid excessive citrus fruits, acidic vegetables, spicy foods and aggressive brushing technique.
Canker sores are not contagious at all. Unlike cold sores which typically appear outside the mouth (under the nose, around the lips, or under the chin), canker sores occurs only inside the mouth. Canker sore appear in circle or oval shape, being white or gray at the center, with a red edge or border.
Cold sores are small, painful blisters that typically occurs in clusters on or near the lips, on the nose, chin or anywhere around the mouth. These sores appear as tiny fluid-filled blisters and are sometimes called fever blisters.
Well, cold sores do cause lots of pain and discomforts. It is very common that about 8 out of 10 people have the virus that causes cold sores. Most people are first infected in their childhood even before they are 10 years old. At first, you might feel a tingling or burning sensation on your skin for about 24 – 48 hours before a cold sore appears.
Cold sores also known as fever blisters are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) is closely related to the one that causes genital herpes (HSV-2). Both of these viruses are very contagious and can affect your mouth or genitals and can spread easily.
After your first infection, the virus remains dormant in the nerves of your face. The virus becomes active from time to time only when triggered, causing cold sores outbreaks. Although, you may not have any symptoms of cold sores, but once the HSV-1 virus is in your body, it can easily be transmitted to a healthy person. The virus responsible for cold sores can be transferred through the saliva (either directly through kissing, or by drinking from the same glass or cup) or by skin contact.
However, cold sores can never appear if the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) is not triggered. There are certain factors that can cause these awakening and result to recurring outbreaks. Some of these common cold sore triggers includes:
- a viral infection or fever
- weakened immune system, especially during a sickness
- exposure to harsh wind or sunlight
- hormonal changes, especially during menstruation and pregnancy
However, HSV-1 can actually cause serious illness in people who have severely weakened immune system or other health problems like HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, cold sores takes quite a long time to heal naturally on their own. Cold sores usually heal with or without treatments in two to four weeks without leaving a scar.
After being exposed to cold sores triggers, many people tend to feel an itching, burning or tingling sensation around their lips or some areas around their face before a small, hard, painful blisters develops. As more days passes, more small fluid-filled blisters typically breaks out and cluster. The blisters may merge and then burst, leaving shallow open sores that will ooze fluid and then crust over.
Well, the symptoms and discomforts caused by cold sores vary, depending on whether it is your first outbreak or a recurrence. Recurrences often appear at the same spot each time and tend to be less severe than the first outbreak. (1) At the first outbreak, most people experience symptoms such as headache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches or general body pain, fever, and painfully eroded gums.
Normally, cold sores heals within two to four weeks, but they often reappear when HSV-1 is reactivated later in life. They usually show up after a period of illness or stress, poor nutrition or sunlight exposure. Sometimes, dental procedures such as tooth extraction can actually stretch the oral tissues and trigger the virus. (2)
Before treatments, your dentist or doctor will have to diagnose your cold sores by asking you about your medical history and also conduct some medical examinations. Some tests may be carried out to determine the underlying trigger or causes of your cold sores. From the results gotten from the tests, your dentist or doctor will determine a suitable treatment plan for you. Some of the common available treatment options for cold sores include:
- Apply aloe vera gel: aloe vera gel is applied directly on cold sores to shorten the healing time and also reduce the discomforts. Naturally, the aloe vera gel contains powerful anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties that makes them effective for treating cold sores.
- Medications: there are suitable medications for cold sores. Although, this medications can never get rid of herpes simplex virus (HSV) but they help to shorten the healing process and also relieve pain and discomfort. Certain antiviral medications, acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) are often recommended.
- Eat healthy foods: take enough healthy foods to boost your immune system. For instance, vitamin E aids the body with skin cell production and vitamin C can boost levels of white cells, which fight off viral infections. (3)
- Be careful when handling cold sores. Try as much as possible to keep the area clean, you can apply suitable topical medications and gels. Also, do not pick at the crusts over the sores. If the pain is too intense, you can apply an ice pack over the sore to ease the pain and reduce the discomforts.
How to prevent cold sores
In order to prevent recurrences, your doctor may prescribe some antiviral medications which you are to take on a regular basis. Another best way to prevent cold sores, is to avoid those things that seems to trigger your recurrences. In the mean time, you should be careful not to spread cold sores to other people or to other healthy parts of your body. Here is how to prevent cold sores:
- Don’t share your personal items. Don’t let others use what may have come in contact with your cold sores. Don’t share your personal eating utensils, towels, toothpaste, balm and other items that could possibly spread the virus.
- Always wash your hands. You can easily spread cold sores, if you touch other people or other parts of your body when you did not wash your hands after touching cold sores. Wash your hands carefully each time you touch cold sores before touching any other parts of your body and other people.
- Avoid body contacts with infected patients. If you have not gotten the virus already, don’t engage in physical contact with someone currently suffering from an outbreak. Avoid any body with cold sores, especially when the sores are open and oozing fluids.
- Maintain a healthy immune system. Having an excellent immune system, plus enough vitamins and minerals in your body, can treat and also prevent cold sores. Try effective stress reduction coping skills, and also maintain a healthy vitamins levels in your body.
Remember, cold sores are highly contagious. Canker sores usual appear on the soft tissues inside the mouth, while cold sores often occurs outside of the mouth. Cold sores usually appear as small fluid-filled sores that usually occur in clusters on the lips, nose, chin and different parts of the face. Although, in rare cases, cold sores can occur inside the mouth.