Cold sores and angular cheilitis both affect the lips and the areas around the mouth. The symptoms can be similar so let’s take a look at both conditions so you can tell the difference between the two. 

What is a cold sore?

Cold sores are widespread and are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The herpes simplex virus is passed on by coming into close contact with someone with a cold sore and is often picked up during childhood. Most people have the virus, but it can lay dormant and never cause a cold sore. Once you contract the virus, it lives inside your bloodstream indefinitely and may flare up now and again. 

What are the symptoms of a cold sore? 

Cold sores appear around the mouth and on the lips, as small blisters. You’ll usually notice a tingling, burning or itching sensation before the cold sore appears. Within 48 hours of this, a cold sore will appear, which resembles the appearance of a blister. Eventually, the blister will burst and crust over before healing. 

Are cold sores contagious? 

Cold sores are contagious when they are visible, more so when the blister bursts and you have an open sore. However, you can pass on the virus at any time during a cold sore outbreak, so it’s best to avoid kissing, oral contact and sharing cutlery or cups until it has fully healed. In particular, avoid kissing babies as this is often how the virus is contracted during childhood. 

How to treat a cold sore 

A cold sore will disappear on its own without treatment within 7-10 days, but some treatments can speed up the process. Aciclovir is a cream that is applied to the affected area as soon as you feel a cold sore coming on (when you notice that tingling sensation). This is an antiviral cream that helps to ease the discomfort and encourage faster healing. Aciclovir is also available in tablet form if you have frequent recurring cold sores. 

Cold sores can be treated, but there is no cure for the virus. The lack of a cure means that cold sores can reappear at any time, particularly during times of stress or illness. The virus lies dormant the majority of the time, and you can’t pass it to others unless you have an active cold sore. 

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What is angular cheilitis? 

Angular cheilitis is a fungal or bacterial infection that causes the corners of the mouth to become cracked and sore. It is caused by a buildup of saliva which becomes trapped in the corners of your mouth. Unlike a cold sore, angular cheilitis is not contagious and cannot be passed on to someone else through kissing or close contact. 

What are the symptoms of angular cheilitis? 

The main symptoms of angular cheilitis is a sore, irritated feeling in the corners of your mouth. This area may also be cracked and dry. You may also notice: 

  • Red or swollen skin 
  • Blisters 
  • Crusty skin 
  • Itching 
  • Dryness and discomfort 
  • Pain and difficulty opening your mouth fully 

What causes angular cheilitis? 

The building up of saliva, coupled with the growth of bacteria or the Candida fungus, is what causes angular cheilitis. There are certain risk factors and underlying medical conditions, which make you more likely to experience it. These are: 

  • Wearing braces 
  • Ill-fitting dentures 
  • Crooked teeth 
  • An under or overbite
  • Licking your lips frequently 
  • Smoking 
  • Sucking your thumb 
  • A lack of nutrients 
  • Diabetes 
  • Blood cancer
  • Anaemia 
  • Immune disorders 
  • Down’s syndrome 
  • Cancer of the lung, kidney, pancreatitis or lung

How is angular cheilitis treated? 

Depending on the cause, antibacterial or antifungal creams can treat angular cheilitis. Your doctor will be able to determine which treatment you need. You can also apply petroleum jelly to the affected area to seal in moisture and help reduce the inflammation. You do not need to avoid close contact with others during this time as angular cheilitis is not contagious. Once it is treated, the infection is cured and should not return. 

Sources: 

NHS> Cold Sores
NHS Inform> Cold Sores
Web MD> Angular Cheilitis