Are Cold Sores and Canker Sores the Same Thing?

Reviewed on 9/18/2020

Are cold sores and canker sores the same thing?

Cold sores and canker sores are not the same thing although they share some similarities.
Cold sores and canker sores are not the same thing although they share some similarities.

Although cold sores and canker sores have similarities, they are entirely different conditions.

Canker sores are not contagious, but cold sores are. Canker sores show up inside the mouth, while cold sores are often seen on the lips.

Cold sores

  • Cold sores are infectious.
  • It is also known as a fever blister or recurrent herpes labialis.
  • Cold sores are caused by a virus called HSV-1.
  • They are contagious and extremely painful for the first few days. First-time outbreaks may usually involve other symptoms, such as headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and a sore throat.
  • These sores are typically seen as a cluster of small blisters that quickly rupture to form small ulcers. The ulcerations may later extend to the skin around the mouth and become covered with a crust or scab.
  • Usually, cold sores appear outside the mouth, under the nose, around the lips or under the chin.
  • Lesions are commonly preceded by itching, burning and/or tingling sensations.
  • Cold sores usually are triggered by fever, emotional or physical stress, hormonal changes and/or decreased functioning of the immune system. They can be passed on to another person through kissing and sharing things that go in or near your mouth (like spoons or lipstick).
  • They generally heal within 7 to 10 days with or without treatment.
  • Applying petroleum jelly or aloe vera extracts or ice on the sores may numb the pain and speed up the healing process. In recurrent cases, doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs and creams, such as Valacyclovir.
  • To prevent a recurrence, individuals may need to maintain a hygienic lifestyle. Eating foods enriched with vitamin E and C may help in boosting the immune system.

Canker sores 

  • These sores are not usually infectious and are rarely contagious.
  • Canker sores are small round ulcers that appear inside the mouth usually on the inside of the cheek or near the gums. Canker sores are an autoimmune response of the body that damages the skin inside the mouth after a local injury.
  • They might be triggered by poor diet, local injury, food allergies, spicy food and vitamin deficiencies. Rarely, a virus may cause canker sores.
  • They often have a gray punched-out center and a white or yellow edge surrounded by redness. The sores bleed easily, usually when brushing the teeth.
  • They usually last for several days. Occasionally, they may last for 1 to 2 weeks before disappearing.
  • Canker sores are usually healed within 14 days. They may be treated with over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Anesthetic ointment or gel may be applied for a short period to numb the pain. Dabbing a bit of cortisone or milk of magnesia on the affected area to coat the ulcer may reduce the pain.
  • Gargling with warm salt water or a solution of baking soda and water can shorten the healing time and reduce pain as well. A high-quality antimicrobial oral rinse may also help in the healing process.
  • Avoiding highly acidic or spicy foods and eating a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may prevent recurrence. A toothpaste devoid of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is known to prevent the recurrence of canker sores.

Should I be worried about cold sores and canker sores?

To summarize, canker and cold sores have characteristics that distinguish them from one another. Both sores are nuisances more than anything and they are not a major threat to health, but they are quite bothersome. Finding out whether you have a canker sore or a cold sore is the first step towards finding an effective treatment. Some people also deal with recurrent cold sores and canker sores. For a recurrent cold sore, the doctor may give suppression therapy with a daily antiviral to reduce the frequency of outbreaks. You should also see a doctor for repeated canker sores. This can be a sign of an autoimmune disease or a vitamin deficiency. Both canker sores and cold sores are two different conditions that signal weakness in the immune system. Fortunately, the immune system can be boosted with a healthy diet and a hygienic lifestyle.


Ringworm is caused by a fungus. See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medscape Medical Reference

WRVO Public Media

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors