Cold sores and canker sores, though similar in appearance, have different causes. Read this article for a detailed comparison between the two.
About 20% of the world’s population suffers from cold sores. This whopping number is sufficient enough to understand the extent at which this infection spreads. More often than not, cold sores are mistaken with another similar condition, named canker sores. What are canker sores, and how do they differ from cold sores? Let us find out from the comparison given below.
Cold Sores Vs. Canker Sores
The reason why both these terms are used interchangeably, is their appearance. Both cold sores and canker sores are tiny, fluid filled pustules in and around mouth. Cold sores are likely to erupt in and around lips, whereas canker sores develop on soft palate, under the tongue, inside the lips, cheeks, etc. The following parameters of comparison should highlight the difference between the two in a prominent way.
Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This is not the same virus which causes genital herpes (caused by HSV-2). However, the mode of working of both these herpes viruses is somewhat similar. This virus usually infects a person at childhood itself. It stays deep inside the nervous system, in structures called ganglion. The virus stays dormant in the body, until an appropriate opportunity presents itself. In events such as immune suppression, stress, exposure to sunlight, etc., the virus becomes active and causes lesions on the skin.
The exact reason why canker sores develop is yet unknown to the medical community. Canker sores are perceived as some form of ulcers or localized inflammation. Their occurrence is triggered due to factors such as lack of sleep, vitamin deficiency, stress, etc.
HSV-1 virus is extremely contagious and can spread from one person to the other through the medium of saliva. This infection is also called kissing disease, as kissing is one of the most common modes of transmission of cold sores. During childhood, the virus can enter a person’s body through exchange of straws, drinking from the same glass of an infected person or coming in direct contact with saliva of an infected person. Canker sores are not contagious as they are not caused due to any pathogen.
Both cold sores and canker sores last for about 7 to 10 days. Before cold sores erupt, you may get a tingling sensation. A red blister develops thereafter, which is then filled with a fluid. After about 4 days, the blister bursts releasing the fluid. Crust formation, which signals the final stage of cold sore healing process begins subsequently. The sore heals completely in about 14 days without leaving any scar. Canker sores may develop a bit abruptly and may heal at the same rate.
There is no permanent treatment for cold sores as the virus stays with you forever. The virus is deeply and securely tucked away in spinal cord, where no antiviral medication can ever reach. This makes it very difficult to eradicate the infection. Nonetheless, you can control the symptoms to keep pain and discomfort in check. Over the counter medications such as Abreva, Zilactin, Anbesol, Blistex, Carmex, Orabase and Orajel can help in relieving the painful symptoms. Taking lysine, vitamin C, etc. are good preventive measures against recurrent cold sores. These medications work best when you attack the cold sore at the first sight. A full blown blister may become very difficult to treat.
Canker sores, when large and in multiples, can be very painful. If the crust of the sore cracks, it may lead to bacterial infection. Hence, rinsing the mouth with antibacterial mouthwash helps in preventing bacterial infection. Similarly, keeping the area moist with petrolatum encourages faster healing and prevents cracking of the sores. Aphthasol is the only FDA approved prescription medication against canker sores. Besides, you may also benefit from using any of the OTC ointments for canker sores.
Both canker sores and cold sores have a tendency to resurface. Maintaining good oral hygiene is one way of minimizing recurrent infections. Avoid contact with healthy individuals whenever you have an active infection.