Treating & Preventing Cold Sores

Despite the name, that isn’t what causes them. The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is most often the cause. You get it from contact with an infected person’s skin or body fluids. The virus damages your skin as it reproduces. That leaves behind weepy sores that last about a week. Between outbreaks, HSV-1 hides inside nerve cells, so it’s never completely cured.

Yes. Use caution while you have a sore. Don’t kiss, and don’t share toothbrushes, silverware, or glasses. Skip oral sex. That will reduce most of the spread of HSV-1, although you may not be able to control the spread completely.

The main way to tell the difference between a fever blister and a canker sore is by location. Fever blisters occur outside the mouth, generally around the border of the lips. Canker sores occur inside the mouth.

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Difference Between Cold Sore and Canker Sore

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American Dental Association: “Canker Sores and Cold Sores.”

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Can It Spread to Your Body?

Kriesel, J. Human Genome Variation, published online Nov. 20, 2014.

Collection of small, fluid-filled blisters

Symptoms of canker sores:

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Fever Blisters (also known as cold sores) are painful fluid-filled sores that form on the outside of the mouth around the lips. Fever blisters are very contagious.

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Show Sources

Pope. L.E. Antiviral Research, 1998.

American Academy of Dermatology: “Viral Infections: Herpes Simplex.”

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Cheilosis

How Does a Cold Sore Heal? | Livestrong.com

Canker Sores are painful white or yellow sores that only form inside the mouth, usually on the insides of the cheeks or lips or on the tongue. Canker sores (also called aphthous ulcers) are not contagious.

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Causes

Spruance, S.L. New England Journal of Medicine, 1977.

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Fever Blisters & Canker Sores

Why do I keep getting cold sores? Causes and prevention

HSV-1 lives in your nerves. It’s pretty quiet most of the time, but you may have triggers that bring it out of hiding and cause cold sores. They can range from sunlight or a fever to stress and getting your period. Some people get cold sores twice a year or less. For others, it’s a monthly ordeal.

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Why Doesn’t Everyone Get Them?

It’s tough to hold them off entirely, but there are things you can do to help keep them at bay. Learn what your triggers are and avoid them. Stay out of the sun, or use sunscreen and UV-blocking lip balm. Figure out what works to manage your stress. Keep your immune system healthy with plenty of sleep and daily exercise.

Both fever blisters and canker sores are common across all ages and can be painful. However, they are separate conditions with different causes. Read further to learn how to tell them apart and find out which treatments might help ease the pain.

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