Is That A Cold Sore Or Canker Sore?

At some point you’ve likely dealt with the irritation of a cold sore or canker sore. And while these unwelcome visitors on your lip or mouth may have you feeling self-conscious, remember, they’re only temporary. But because these sores are so common and they have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell just what type you have.

The good news is by learning more about their triggers, symptoms and tips to prevent them; you’re more likely to stay mouth sore free. Let’s take a closer look at canker sores vs. cold sores.

Understanding Canker Sores

While the exact cause of canker sores isn’t known, they are often linked to:
  • An injury or irritation in the mouth, such as biting the inside of your cheek or braces rubbing
  • Allergy or sensitivity to certain foods or substances, such as citrus juice or some kinds of toothpaste
  • Poor nutrition
  • Emotional stress
  • Certain infections and illnesses

How Can I Tell If It’s a Canker Sore?

If you notice a new mouth sore, look for these common traits that could mean its canker sore:
  • Sores are often located on the tongue, gums or inside of the cheeks.
  • Sores are open and grayish-yellow, surrounded by redness.
  • Sores are usually painful and sensitive to touch.
  • Canker sores may be preceded by a burning or tingling sensation a few hours to a few days before the sore appears.
  • Canker sores usually go away by themselves within 10 to 14 days.

Tips to Prevent & Treat Canker Sores

  • Take note of any foods that irritate your mouth and avoid them, especially if you have a canker sore. Some of the most common foods are citrus fruits, acidic vegetables and spicy foods.
  • Brush your teeth frequently, especially after you eat, as this will keep your mouth free of irritating foods.
  • Stress is often to blame when it comes to canker sore flare-ups. Make sure to practice stress relieving techniques to promote relaxation and prevent canker sores.

Understanding Cold Sores

Unlike canker sores, cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2. These viruses spread very easily, in fact more than 4 in every 5 people have the herpes simplex virus type 1. It’s important to remember that once you have the virus, it doesn’t leave your body, but by avoiding triggers, it can be inactive for long periods.

When you have a cold sore flare up, it is likely tied to:
  • Sun exposure
  • Fever
  • Stress or exhaustion
  • Menstruation
  • Skin irritation
  • Another unrelated Illness such as pneumonia, urinary infection, or cancer

How Can I Tell If It’s a Cold Sore?

Cold sores will often show symptoms a day or two before an outbreak. These are some of the most common symptoms of cold sores:
  • A blister-like sore or cluster of sores. These often occur at the edge of the lips but may appear inside the mouth.
  • Skin redness around the sores.
  • Pain or itching in the area of the outbreak. Often the pain or itching develops 12 to 24 hours before the sore become visible.
  • Cold sores tend to come back in the same area that they first appeared.

Tips to Prevent & Treat Cold Sores
  • Using prescription or over-the-counter pain medicines can help with discomfort, especially if sores are inside the mouth.
  • Antiviral medicines may help shorten an outbreak and reduce the severity of symptoms. They may be pills that are taken by mouth or a cream to apply to sores. They may be used to help prevent future outbreaks if you have disabling recurrent infections.
  • There are a number of home remedies you can also try to alleviate symptoms and shorten the length of an outbreak. While most of these won’t prevent an outbreak completely, they can provide some much needed relief. Try lemon balm, lysine, ice and zinc oxide.  

Lasting Treatment for Cold Sores & Canker Sores

In the event that you have persistent cold sores or canker sores with worsening or severe symptoms, make sure to see your doctor right away. While these frustrating mouth sores may seem unavoidable, they don’t have to be. By working with an experienced doctor, you’ll better understand your triggers and find the best, most effective treatment options for you.


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