Do You Have a Cold Sore or Something Else

Do You Have a Cold Sore or Something Else?

More than 90% of the U.S. population is infected with the herpes simplex virus, but that doesn’t mean that you have cold sores. Also known as fever blisters, they can be mistaken for other skin conditions.

Common Skin Conditions That Are Often Mistaken for Cold Sores

While cold sores will eventually go away on their own in about 2 weeks, they can be painful and unsightly in the process. Knowing all of the symptoms of a cold sore can help you to seek out treatment and speed up the healing time.

Additionally, knowing what other possible growths or skin conditions can be confused with a cold sore is also important. Some skin complaints may be harmless, but others may require a different treatment altogether.

If you get a flare-up or growth anywhere around the mouth, it must be identified correctly. This article will cover conditions that are often mistaken for cold sores. We’ll discuss how to recognize a cold sore and several other conditions, so each can be treated the right way.

There are several different growths or skin conditions that could be mistaken for cold sores. This article will focus on some of the most commonly-confused: Canker sores, pimples, insect bites, and ingrown hairs. They can also be mistaken for angular cheilitis.

The best way to identify any of these conditions is to know the symptoms and seek out the right kind of treatment. If you’ve never experienced a cold sore, or aren’t sure what it looks or feels like, that’s the most important place to start.

Fever Blister

If you’re more prone to cold sores, you can probably tell when you’re about to get one, even before it shows up. One of the earliest signs of a blister is tingling or itching around the mouth. This can occur days before any signs of a mark or blister.

From there, a cold sore will go through several stages before it goes away completely. This can 2 weeks, sometimes. Throughout these stages, you’ll notice some of the following common symptoms:

  • Formation of a blister
  • Redness
  • Itching, burning, and irritation
  • An oozing blister
  • Scabbing

Unfortunately, cold sores can be very painful, especially in certain stages. Once a blister has formed, it will eventually burst open and ooze. From there, it will crust over, which begins the healing process. But, this can be the most uncomfortable part.

It’s the riskiest stage. If the scab that forms gets cracked or cut open somehow, the sore can bleed. This opens you up to infection, and also increases the healing time.

If you do have a cold sore, the Virulite device or HERP-B-GONE cream are recommended.

Canker Sore

Canker sores are commonly confused with cold sores. It’s important to note that canker sores aren’t associated with the herpes virus, so they aren’t contagious. Also, you can’t get cold sores inside of the mouth.

With canker sores, no real extra precautions are needed. You can’t ‘give’ it to another person, even through direct contact. So, knowing the differences in what to look for can be very important. Some of the most common physical traits of a canker sore include:

  • Typically occur inside the mouth
  • Gray in color
  • Distinct/noticeable edge
  • Some larger sores may make it difficult to eat and talk

They will also heal on their own, within about two weeks. If you have a sore that’s extremely painful, your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory solution or steroid.

Mouth rinses are also common solutions. However, they are far less painful and noticeable to others than fever blisters. They are considered to be ulcerations and can be caused by anything from additional stress to trauma.

Canker sores are fairly consistent throughout their short lifespan. They won’t go through stages, like a fever blister. Unfortunately, this consistency through a matter of days or weeks can be uncomfortable unless treated or soothed with Durham’s Canker-Rid.


It’s likely you’ve experienced a pimple somewhere on your body before. However, adult acne can show up anywhere, including around the mouth, which can feel a little unexpected for some. Pimples will usually appear as small red bumps on the skin. Some of them will have a white or black tip, while others will just remain red and raised.

They are caused by hair follicles (usually on the face) becoming clogged with either oil, dirt, or dead skin. When the pores of your skin are blocked, bacteria begins to grow.

The redness of a pimple can be mistaken for a cold sore. Of course, pimples aren’t caused by viruses, and they are not contagious. There are a few distinct ways to tell these conditions apart. Some of the clearest differences include:

  • Cold sores tend to show up around one area of the mouth – usually the lower lip. While they can show up elsewhere, It’s more common for them to be around the lips. Pimples can show up virtually anywhere on the face or lips.
  • Pimples shouldn’t hurt on their own. They may be tender to the touch. Cold sores can itch, tingle, or burn even when you’re not touching them.
  • Sometimes, a pimple will have a white or black head. Cold sores may have the appearance of several tiny blisters forming a cluster.

Treating even mild acne can usually be accomplished through the right use of products and general skin care. Keep the following tips in mind to help eliminate breakouts.

  • Wash your face with a mild soap daily.
  • Choose water-based makeup products, and avoid extra oils.
  • Remove makeup before going to bed.
  • Oily hair can contribute to acne if it brushes against the face. Keep your hair clean and away from your face if possible.
  • If acne persists or gets worse, try a medicated cream or face wash.
  • Be aware of how your diet affects your skin. Certain foods like dairy and carbohydrates can trigger breakouts for some people.

Do I have a cold sore or a different skin ailment?

Insect Bites & Ingrown Hairs

Any sore or irritation that occurs around the mouth could be confused for a cold sore. Insect bites and ingrown hairs may be rarer than canker sores or pimples, but they do happen. However, the treatment solutions are very different.

Insect bites, such as mosquito bites, may initially appear as swollen red bumps. You may think this is the beginning of a cold sore blister. They can even be itchy and tingly. However, a mosquito bite will shrink, and the irritation will subside over time. A cold sore will continue to form a more obvious blister and continue to go through several stages before it starts to heal.

Mosquito bites will go away on their own. However, to soothe any itch or irritation, try some of the following natural remedies:

  • Aloe vera
  • Toothpaste
  • Raw honey
  • Vinegar

An ingrown hair anywhere around the mouth may also produce a raised, red bump that can look like the beginning of a cold sore. They are caused when a hair grows abnormally from the skin, either curling back or sideways.

Ingrown hairs can even continue to form sores that look more like boils. Additionally, they can be itchy, painful, and uncomfortable, so it’s easy to mistake an ingrown hair for a cold sore.

Most of the time, ingrown hairs will clear up on their own, and the pain will go away. To help the healing process, don’t shave for a while, giving the hair a chance to grow out. To alleviate some of the pain, try warm compresses directly on the affected area.

How Can I Be Sure I Have a Cold Sore?

Cold sores are extremely contagious. If you start to notice any of the symptoms listed above, it’s likely you came in contact with someone who already has one. However, other factors can trigger cold sores too, including stress or extreme weather conditions.

If you are prone to cold sores and notice symptoms early on, you can begin treatment to speed up the healing process. However, if you’ve never gotten one before, it’s important to make sure you’re treating the right condition.

Keep the possible issues listed in this article in mind if you ever notice a sore or experience some irritation around the mouth. Of course, there are other possibilities not listed here, but these are some of the most common problems you’re likely to face that look like cold sores. Thankfully, most will heal on their own with time, and you can take steps to alleviate any pain or discomfort associated with all of them.

Best Cold Sore Treatments

If you are looking for the best cold sore treatments – these three products below work exceptionally well.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Abreva 10 Percent Docosanol Cold Sore Treatment, Treats Your Fever Blister in 2.5 Days - 0.07 oz Tube x 2
  • Number 1 Cold Sore Brand: Two 0.07 oz tubes of Abreva 10 Percent Docosanol Cold Sore Treatment
  • Can Heal in 2.5 Days: Fever blister cream contains 10 percent docosanol to shorten the duration of cold sore symptoms (1)
  • Nothing Heals Fever Blisters Faster: 10 percent docosanol cream penetrates deep into skin to tackle cold sores at their source (1, 2, 3)
  • Lip Cream Clinically Proven to Shorten Duration of Symptoms: Cold sore product shortens duration of tingling, pain, burning and itching associated with cold sores (1)
  • Portable Cold Sore Cream: Packaged in a convenient tube for on the go cold sore treatment
SaleBestseller No. 2
Mederma Cold Sore Fever Blister Discreet Healing Patch - A Patch That Protects and Conceals Cold Sores - 15 Count
7,952 Reviews
Mederma Cold Sore Fever Blister Discreet Healing Patch - A Patch That Protects and Conceals Cold Sores - 15 Count
  • FAST HEALING ultra-thin Hydrocolloid Gel provides a moist environment to help: relieve pain, reduce the blistering and prevent scabbing.
SaleBestseller No. 3
Campho Phenique Cold Sore and Fever Blister Treatment for Lips, Maximum Strength Provides Instant Relief, Helps Prevent Infection To Promote Healing, Original Gel Formula, 0.23 Oz
  • Specially formulated for cold sores/fever blisters
  • Instantly relieves pain & itch
  • Helps prevent infection to promote healing
  • For adults and children 2 years and over
  • Store at room temperature