It can be easy to confuse canker sores and cold sores. In fact, many people use the two phrases interchangeably. If you are suffering from either condition, then you may be embarrassed to seek out more information. But both types of sores are common and should be understood. Cold sores and canker sores have a lot of overlap when it comes to symptoms during outbreaks. We’ll go over the potential causes and symptoms for each in detail below.
What is a Canker Sore?
The official name of canker sores is aphthous stomatitis and they affect roughly 20% of the population. The first instance of a canker sore typically develops between the age of 10 and 20, though children as young as two have shown symptoms. Sores may develop infrequently or a regular basis depending on several factors.
The soft parts of the inside of the mouth are the only places that canker sores develop: the throat, tongue, cheeks, gums, etc. You may first notice a small, red spot that is slightly inflamed. After about a day the spot bursts. It is then covered by a yellow or white film and has a red halo around it. Outbreaks typically go away in less than two weeks and cannot be spread from person to person.
While it’s not yet known what causes canker sores in the first place, there is a lot of research on what is correlated with an outbreak:
- Acidic foods
- Food allergies
- Stress or injury
- Compromised immune system
- Deficiencies in B-12, iron, folic acid
- Conditions like Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease
What is a Cold Sore?
Fever blisters (or cold sores) are brought about by infection by the HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus-1). If the name sounds familiar, it has a similar profile as, but is distinct from, HSV-2 which are sores on and around one’s genitals.
It’s estimated that up to 2/3 of those infected won’t experience any symptoms. This makes it difficult to determine how many people are effected by HSV-1, but it’s believed to be between 45 – 80% of adults and children, making it relatively common.
Around the lips is the most common area for cold sores to develop. Other locations are inside the nose, on the cheeks, or on the chin or eye area. You may feel discomfort around the area before red blisters appear for roughly two weeks. As the blisters begin to fade they’ll turn cloudy or yellowish and form a crust. During and a few days prior to the outbreak (known as the shedding stage) this outbreak period, the virus is highly contagious.
Like canker sores, there are some things that can cause an outbreak of cold sores to develop:
- Fever or sickness
- Emotional stress or injury
- Exposing the area to sunlight
While neither of these types of sores are anything to be embarrassed about, it is still important to see a doctor if you suspect you have either. There are no known cures for canker sore or cold sores, but there are methods and medication that can help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms and shorten the duration or the outbreak.