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As both cold sores and canker sores occur on the soft tissue of the mouth, they are often mistaken for one another. However, cold sores are different from canker sores, and their causes also vary. (See Reference 1)
Cold sores generally occur on the outside of the mouth, on the lips or chin; whereas canker sores occur on the inside of the mouth. The former is caused due to a virus, namely herpes simplex virus Type 1 and is extremely contagious. The virus lies dormant in the body and on activation causes blisters that are filled with fluid. The fluid in the blisters is full of the virus and can contaminate towels, utensils, glasses, razors and lipsticks. (See Reference 1) On the other hand, cold sores are not contagious and cannot be spread to another person. Usually, cold sores occur when the soft tissue of the mouth, like the lips, inside of the chin or the gums get injured due to biting, vigorous brushing of teeth, or eating hard food items. A woman can get canker sores due to fluctuation in the hormones during menstruation. The sores can also occur due to food allergies or being allergic to thinks like mouth washes or toothpastes. (See Reference 1) Majority of people who get canker sores are actually healthy without any health problems. (See Reference 1)
The initial symptoms of cold sores and canker sore are more or less the same. Both cause a tingling sensation and pain 1 or 2 days before the sores make an appearance. However, once the sores appear, they are quite different to look at. A cold sore is blister that is filled with fluid. It is extremely painful. A cold sore has a white center with red edges and the pain can range from moderate to severe. A cold sore takes around 2 weeks to get okay, while a canker sore will take anywhere from 7 days to 10 days to heal. (See Reference 1) Cold sores may require anti-viral medication to hasten the healing process and reduce the pain; but canker sores require no treatment and resolve on their own.
As mentioned earlier, cold sores occur when the herpes virus in the skin becomes active, whereas the actual cause of canker sores is unknown, but they tend to run in families. Cold sores can occur in anyone who has the herpes simplex virus Type 1. On the other hand, cold sores tend to develop more frequently in women compared to men. (See Reference 1)
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