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Cold Sore Versus Pimple: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

cold sore versus pimple

cold sore versus pimple

Pimple Around The Lip Versus Cold Sore: What's The Difference?

Pimples and cold sores are common skin conditions that manifest as painful blisters. While pimples are bacterial infections, cold sores are viral. Both may occur around the mouth and in the corners of the lips, but if you have a blister on the lips, it is mostly a cold sore. Cold sores may be accompanied by pain, itching, a tingling sensation, or fever. Unlike a pimple, which can't spread from person to person, cold sores are contagious.

Pimples and cold sores are common ailments that can affect anyone. They also look similar, especially in the early stages. So when you have a blister forming near your mouth, how can you tell the difference? And how important is it to identify them correctly?

Pimples and cold sores have different triggers. Pimples are a bacterial problem while cold sores are viral. This calls for completely different treatments. We’re here to explain the distinction between the two so you can get the right treatment as soon as possible.

How Are They Caused?

Pimples develop from a condition called acne. This occurs when the pores in your skin become clogged with oil (sebum). Each pore is connected to a hair follicle and an oil gland known as a sebaceous gland. Oil produced by the gland keeps your skin soft and assists in removing old skin cells. But when sebaceous glands produce too much oil, your skin pores clog up.1

The mix of cells and oil encourages the growth of bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) in the clogged follicles. And while this bacteria normally grows on the skin, overgrowth can have undesirable results. It causes an inflammatory response and produces a lesion called a pimple. If it stays under the skin, a white bump called a whitehead develops. But if it comes to the surface of the skin, the sebum changes color when exposed to air and becomes a blackhead. Pimples can also take the form of pustules, cysts, nodules, and papules. These may be painful, filled with pus, or tender. They’re so common that about 80 percent of people between ages 11 and 30 have suffered from acne outbreaks at some point during their lives.2

Meanwhile, cold sores are caused by an extremely infectious virus known as herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two kinds of HSV: Type 1 generally causes cold sores or oral herpes while type 2 causes genital herpes. However, type 2 can also cause oral herpes if it comes in contact with your mouth. Unlike pimples which can’t spread from person to person, cold sores are contagious, and you can get them by touching an open sore or something that has been infected with the virus, like a towel or razor. And once you contract it, the virus stays in your body forever. According to the World Health Organization, about 67 percent of people worldwide under the age of 50 have oral herpes.3 Specifically, more than 50 percent of people are infected by HSV type 1 by the time they reach their twenties.4

What Can Trigger These?

Certain factors like hormonal changes, puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or birth control use can trigger acne. And if your parents had acne, you are more likely to break out. Oily cosmetics can also cause your pores to clog up and trigger acne.5

Where cold sores are concerned, it is important to keep in mind that while the virus is always present in your body after you’ve been infected, certain factors like sun exposure, hormonal changes, stress, and fever can trigger an outbreak of cold sores.6 Medication with steroids, testosterone, and estrogen can also have the same effect.

What Are The Symptoms?

Pimples are usually small reddish bumps on the skin. They can be filled with pus and often have white or black heads. Typically, pimples develop on the face and shoulders. They can also form on the arms, legs, and buttocks.7 Cold sores are either reddish blisters that leak or small blisters filled with a clear yellow discharge. They may grow in clusters. Many small blisters can even grow into one big blister.

Since cold sores usually develop on the edge of the lips, it can be easy to confuse them with a pimple that grows on the corner of your lips. But, remember, pimples don’t grow on areas without hair follicles. This means that you can get a pimple around your mouth and at the edges of your lips – but you can’t get one on your lip or your gums.

Another clear difference between pimples and cold sores is the warning symptoms: itching, burning, or tingling sensation in and around your mouth or lips. These manifest before a cold sore develops. You may also get fever, sore throat, and swollen glands. Trouble swallowing before an outbreak may also occur. Eventually, blisters may form on your gums, lips, mouth, or throat.8

How Do You Treat Them?

Creams and gels that can help to unblock pores and kill bacteria are usually used to treat acne. Oral antibiotics and hormonal treatments (in cases where a hormonal imbalance is thought to be causing the acne) may also be prescribed by your doctor in certain cases.9 Though there is no cure for cold sores, they do usually resolve on their own in a few weeks. Antiviral medications can, however, speed up the healing process. Your doctor may also prescribe other medications (such as a salve) that numb or dry out blisters.10

You can also turn to natural remedies to help out with both pimples and cold sores. Turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties, can not only help heal pimples but has also been found to reduce facial oil when applied twice a day for 4 weeks. Just mix a pinch or two of turmeric with a little yogurt, water, or aloe vera gel and apply it on the pimple. Wait for it to dry and wash it off to get rid of pimples and reduce sebum secretion.11

Lemon juice12 and basil leaf juice13 have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help in the treatment of acne. Try dabbing some onto a zit for a quick and easy treatment.

Topical application of vitamin E has been found to help heal cold sores faster while also providing pain relief.14 Antiviral lemon oil and anti-inflammatory licorice can also help with cold sores.15

References   [ + ]

1, 7. Acne, National Institutes of Health.
2. What Is Acne? National Institutes of Health.
3. Herpes simplex virus, World Health Organization.
4, 10. Cold Sores, National Institutes of Health.
5. Questions and Answers about Acne, National Institutes of Health.
6, 8. Herpes – oral, National Institutes of Health.
9. Acne – Treatment options, National Health Service.
11. Zaman, S. U., and Naveed Akhtar. “Effect of turmeric (Curcuma longa Zingiberaceae) extract cream on human skin sebum secretion.” Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 12, no. 5 (2013): 665-669.
12. Shinkafi, S. A., and H. Ndanusa. “Antibacterial Activity of Citrus Limonon Acne vulgaris (Pimples).” International Journal of Science inventions Today 2 (2013): 397-409.
13. Azimi, Hanieh, Mehrnaz Fallah-Tafti, Ali Asghar Khakshur, and Mohammad Abdollahi. “A review of phytotherapy of acne vulgaris: perspective of new pharmacological treatments.” Fitoterapia 83, no. 8 (2012): 1306-1317.
14. Fink, M., and J. Fink. “Treatment Of Herpes-Simplex By Alpha-Tocopherol (Vitamin-E).” British Dental Journal 148, no. 11-1 (1980): 246-246.
15. Mars, Brigitte, and Chrystle Fiedler. The Country Almanac of Home Remedies: Time-Tested & Almost Forgotten Wisdom for Treating Hundreds of Common Ailments, Aches & Pains Quickly and Naturally. Fair Winds Press (MA), 2014.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.