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Let's Talk About the Difference Between Cold Sores and Canker Sores

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

By N. Hugues


Oral sores are no stranger to a lot of us, but they often manifest in two distinct forms: canker sores and cold sores, also known as mouth ulcers and fever blisters – aphthous ulcers and HSV-1 (herpes). These two very different conditions may appear similar in size, location, and even in the triggers that set them off, but they are worlds apart in terms of contagiousness and underlying causes. In this blog post, we'll dive into the differences between canker sores and cold sores, and explore effective home remedies for each.



Canker Sores - Mouth Ulcers - Aphthous ulcers:

The most significant distinction is that canker sores are not contagious. You can't "catch" them from someone else. Canker sores are non-contagious, non-infectious, and not sexually transmissible. At least 40% of people with canker sores have a positive family history, suggesting that some people are genetically predisposed to developing oral ulceration.


They typically appear inside the mouth, often on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, soft palate, throat, and even the uvula. They are usually small, round, or oval-shaped ulcers with a white or yellowish center and a red border. The exact cause of canker sores is debatable, but the top six causes are Stress, Hormones, Oral Injury, Allergies, Citric Acid, and Covid-19. I’ve delved into each of these causes in previous blogs.


Cold Sores - Fever Blisters - HSV-1 (Herpes):

In stark contrast, cold sores are highly contagious. They're caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and can be transmitted through direct contact with an active sore. These sores can easily be passed from an oral sore to the genitals and vice versa.


Cold Sores appear on the outside of the mouth and are often raised clusters of itchy blisters that contain fluid. They often start as small fluid-filled blisters that then rupture, forming painful, crusty sores.


HSV remains in the body once contracted and cold sores tend to flare up due to factors like stress, illness, sun exposure, or hormonal changes. HSV is highly contagious and can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected person or through contact with their bodily fluids. It can also be transmitted through sexual contact, including oral sex.


There is no cure for HSV, but antiviral medications can help reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks. It’s important to avoid close contact with others when you have an outbreak to prevent the spread of the virus.

Home Remedies for Canker Sores:

Many over-the-counter canker sore remedies mask the pain of the sore while irritating the sore and prolonging the healing process causing you to use/buy more of their product until the sore eventually goes away on its own. Here are a few helpful home remedies that won’t further irritate the sore and aid in true pain reduction.


Saltwater Rinse: Mix warm water with salt and rinse your mouth several times a day. This helps reduce inflammation and promotes healing. However, despite popular belief – placing salt directly on the sores does not aid in healing. The intense pain caused by the salt makes the sore seem to feel less painful in comparison.


Honey: Dab a small amount of honey onto the sore. Honey has natural antibacterial properties and can soothe the area.


Whole Milk or Almond Milk: Gargling with whole milk or almond milk has been shown to help soothe the pain and irritation of canker sores while not irritating the sore.


The Canker Spanker and Calm: Consider using The Canker Spanker for prevention and relief. The antimicrobial properties speed up the healing process from the inside out. If additional, non-irritating, pain relief is needed – Calm is the perfect topical remedy to soothe pain and irritation while promoting quick healing.


Home Remedies for Cold Sores:

Ice: Applying ice to the cold sore can help reduce pain and swelling.

Tea Bags: Applying a warm tea bag to the cold sore for a few minutes several times a day can provide relief.


Medicated Lip Balms: Over-the-counter medicated lip balms without harmful ingredients will help with the constant itch. Also, consider products such as Bag Balm.


Antiviral Creams: If you are not having success with home remedies a prescription antiviral cream like acyclovir can help shorten the duration of cold sores if used early.


The Canker Spanker and Calm: The Canker Spanker has been shown to not only aid in the quick healing of canker sores but also aid in the healing and prevention of cold sores. Calm will provide much-needed topical pain relief without the “white patchy” film of other topical remedies.


Why does The Canker Spanker work for both Canker Sores and Cold Sores?

The Canker Spanker has antimicrobial properties that work by disrupting the structure and function of bacterial membranes. Additionally, it contains components that bind to porphyrin and globin chains, helping to form hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential for delivering oxygen to the body's tissues.

While canker sores and cold sores may appear similar, they are distinct conditions with vastly different contagiousness. Understanding the differences allows you to tailor your treatment approach effectively. Whether you're dealing with canker sores, cold sores, or both, home remedies and products like The Canker Spanker and Calm can provide the relief you need to face the world with a confident, pain-free smile.




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