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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Jul 06, 20227 min read

Difference between canker sore and oral herpes

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Both canker sores and oral herpes are uncomfortable oral lesions, but they’re not actually the same thing. So if you’ve ever wondered whether canker sores are the same as cold sores, just keep reading to find out.

Are canker sores a form of herpes?

No. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Health, cold sores or fever blisters are caused by an oral herpes infection, usually herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Herpes is a lifelong infection, which means that recurrences can happen throughout your life after the initial outbreak.

Canker sores, on the other hand, don’t have a specific cause. Canker sores aren’t an STD, and they’re not contagious. And because they’re not related to herpes viruses, canker sores can’t cause herpes either. Different triggers for canker sores have been proposed, including:

  • Stress
  • Injury
  • Smoking
  • Iron, folic acid, or vitamin B12 deficiencies
  • Certain medications
  • Acidic fruits and vegetables

Types of herpes

As mentioned above, oral herpes is typically caused by HSV-1; however, there are actually two types of herpes simplex viruses. According to the World Health Organization, the two types of herpes virus are:

  • Herpes virus type 1 (HSV-1): this type of herpes virus is usually transmitted by oral contact and it’s the most common cause of cold sores. HSV-1 can also be transmitted during oral sex. It’s incredibly common around the world, with more than 65% of the world’s population affected by the virus.
  • Herpes virus type 2 (HSV-2): this herpes virus is more commonly transmitted through sexual contact, and it’s the cause of most genital herpes sores. And although rare, oral transmission is still possible for HSV-2.

What is the difference between canker sore and oral herpes?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the main difference between them is that canker sores affect the inside of your mouth, while cold sores appear on the outside of the mouth. 

Canker sores are white, gray, or yellow ulcers that appear on the tongue, or inside the cheeks and lips. Also known as aphthous ulcers, they’re not contagious but they’re usually very painful. 

Cold sores or herpes sores, on the other hand, show up as groups of small blisters that appear outside of the mouth, under the nose, or on the chin. These blisters are filled with fluid, and they eventually break open and scab over. Herpes blisters are usually preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the same area.

Treatment for canker sores vs. cold sores

Although herpes can’t be cured, outbreaks can be managed with antiviral treatments that include:

  • Acyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Valacyclovir

On the other hand, antiviral medications like acyclovir for canker sores aren't recommended. Canker sores typically go away on their own within a week, but rinsing your mouth with highly concentrated salt water can provide some relief. According to Keck Medicine of USC, numbing medications are also helpful.

You can diagnose herpes using an at-home STD test kit, and you can learn more about these kits at STDWatch.com.

[Get 30% Off Today - At Home STD Testing

Sources

 

Fever Blisters & Canker Sores - nidcr.nih.gov

Herpes simplex virus - who.int

Which Is Contagious: Your Canker Sore or Cold Sore? - health.clevelandclinic.org

Cold Sores vs. Canker Sores: What’s the Difference? - keckmedicine.org


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