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Canker Sores: When to See a Doctor

Canker Sores: When to See a Doctor

When it comes to ulcers, most people’s minds immediately go to stomach ulcers. However, unfortunately, the condition can also occur in your mouth and can be as uncomfortable as an ulcer anywhere else. A canker sore is a widely known open mouth ulcer that often occurs inside your mouth around cheeks or lips.

If you’re wondering what it looks like, it’s usually a yellow or white sore surrounded by inflamed tissue. On the positive side, canker sores aren’t contagious and don’t take longer than a week or two to heal. The pain usually goes away even earlier. However, complete healing and recovery may take up to six weeks.

What are some canker sore symptoms?

Some of the most common canker sore symptoms include:

  • Painful feeling in your mouth
  • A red area in your mouth
  • A tingling sensation
  • A small, white or yellow ulcer

There may also be additional symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell
  • Swollen lymph nodes

What causes canker sores?

Just like many other conditions, canker sores may also develop if there’s a family history. Other major causes include:

  • Stress
  • Viral infection
  • Food allergy
  • Hormonal fluctuation
  • Mouth injury
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Mineral or vitamin deficiency
  • Menstrual cycle

However, it’s possible not to be able to determine the cause of canker sores in some cases.

How is a canker sore diagnosed?

Canker sore from ulcer 300x225 - Canker Sores: When to See a DoctorYour healthcare professional may conduct a thorough examination of your mouth before establishing whether you have canker sores or not. In some cases, doctors may also recommend getting certain blood tests or a biopsy done if the breakout is severe or if they suspect is the following:

  • A hormonal disorder
  • A virus
  • A form of deficiency, etc.

In rare cases, it’s also possible for a cancerous lesion to appear as a sore, but it’s unlikely to treat it without treatment. On the negative side, some oral cancer symptoms are quite similar to those of canker sores, such as a swollen neck and painful ulcers. However, other symptoms set it apart from a canker sore such as:

  • Earaches
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Teeth feeling loose
  • Bleeding from your gums or mouth

It’s important to see a doctor right away if there’s the presence of any of the stated symptoms above and rule oral cancer out once and for all.

Is there a way to prevent canker sores?

Since there isn’t a single known cause of canker sores, it’s hard to determine what course of action to take to prevent them entirely. However, it is possible to prevent their recurrence by avoiding anything that may have triggered it previously, such as acidic, spicy, or salty foods. If your canker sore were previously caused by stress, try to incorporate deep breathing, meditation, and other calming techniques you may know of.

Stating the obvious, but keep your oral health in check at all times. Practicing good oral hygiene habits and using the right products to keep your gums and teeth healthy is one of the best ways to ensure their longevity and protection. If you suspect having mineral or vitamin deficiencies, speak to your doctor about prescribing supplements or help you create a good diet plan if needed.

How is a canker sore different from a cold sore?

While both conditions are similar in certain aspects, cold sores tend to appear outside your mouth, unlike canker sores that develop inside your mouth. Cold sores are also likely to appear as blisters first, unlike canker sores that appear inflamed first. The former usually becomes sore after your blister pops.

Similar to canker sores, cold sores can also be a result of stress. However, the primary source of this condition is the herpes simplex virus that travels within your body and can result from exhaustion or sunburn.

How is it treated?

Minor canker sores don’t usually require treatment as they heal within a week or two. However, larger and more persistent ones may need some form of care; and thankfully, there are many treatment options available. Here are some, ranging from the most basic ones to those that require more professional intervention.

Rinse your mouth

For starters, your healthcare professional may prescribe something with dexamethasone, which is a steroid, to rinse your mouth. A good mouth rinse can also help you reduce inflammation and pain.

Other over-the-counter products

There are certain products that may speed the healing process and relieve your pain, such as those containing hydrogen peroxide, fluocinonide, and benzocaine. However, even the ones without any active ingredients can help, based on your professional’s recommendation.


Some professionals may recommend oral medications in case your sores aren’t getting better with any other intervention. Some of the medications include those used to treat intestinal ulcers. On the other hand, some medications, such as oral steroids, are only used as a last resort when no other treatment has been successful in healing severe canker sores.

When should you see a doctor?

While minor sores are nothing to worry about and often vanish on their own, some cases may require you to consult a professional. If you think your sores have outstayed their welcome and are unusually large, don’t delay seeking medical advice. Sometimes they start out slow and spread to the entire mouth, causing immense discomfort while performing any oral functions.

On the other hand, if your sores have lasted for more than three weeks, it may be a cause of concern because they can cause a lot of pain despite your attempts to avoid any triggers. If you think home remedies and over-the-counter medicines aren’t working effectively anymore, it may be time to see a doctor and get to the core of the problem.

In the end, canker sores are not a serious condition, but they can cause immense pain and disrupt your ability to perform daily tasks. Therefore, the best way to prevent their onset is to avoid certain foods and keep your stress levels healthy.

Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

Shingles or Herpes Zoster may not be a very commonly encountered dermatological issue, but the shooting pain this viral cutaneous disease causes is sure to make you learn a thing or two about it. Think of chickenpox, for example. Even though both conditions aren’t similar, people who have shingles often have chickenpox first. A rather interesting similarity between the two is how they both develop due to the same virus, namely varicella-zoster virus or VZV.

While chickenpox is known to cause itchy blisters, shingles usually consist of rashes that cause severe pain. Another notable difference between both conditions is that chickenpox often spreads to almost every part of your body, but shingles are limited to just a single side of your body.

Herpes Zoster 300x200 - Shingles (Herpes Zoster)What Are the Early Signs and Symptoms?

Some early signs and symptoms of shingles you should look out for include the following:

  • Headache
  • Fever with chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Severe pain on one side of your body
  • Itching
  • A burning sensation under your skin
  • Larger than usual lymph nodes
  • Lifted patches with redness on the skin


Since there is no first aid you can administer for this condition at home, we recommend getting in touch with a professional if you notice these signs. Even though there isn’t a cure yet, treatment can keep the symptoms from getting worse.

What Causes Shingles?

There’s an interesting chain of events that follows before shingles even occurs. The infamous varicella-zoster virus initially enters your body to cause chickenpox, either during a person’s childhood or adulthood.

Once chickenpox has run its course completely, the virus travels to nerve tissues close to your brain and spinal cord and stays there for a prolonged period. Often after years, the virus apparently becomes active again and gives your skin a second punch, called shingles or herpes zoster.

Is It Contagious?

Yes, just like chickenpox, this condition too is contagious unless someone is vaccinated for it. Moreover, people with a weak immune system, newborn babies, and pregnant women are at a greater risk of catching it. Therefore, it’s recommended to limit your movement outside a confined area until crusts have formed over all the sores.

Additionally, people with a weak immune system are also susceptible to several complications that accompany the condition, such as:

  • Loss of vision or other eye problems in case the rash was near the eye.
  • Paralysis of the face or brain inflammation if certain nerves are affected in the course.
  • Long-lasting pain even after the outbreak.

How Does a Professional Diagnose Shingles?

Typically, diagnosing shingles isn’t overly complicated. A professional usually examines your medical history, asks routine questions about the symptoms, other underlying conditions, and medications, etc. Following this, they may conduct a physical examination and test a very small amount of material if there are any blisters.

Medications Used For Treatment

The healing process can be improved and sped up by the following medications, as per your doctor’s prescription.


Due to the severe pain and inflammation that sometimes can accompany the condition, your doctor may suggest some painkillers like:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Acetaminophen

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medications, as per your doctor’s prescription, can slow down the development of rashes. Some medications include:

  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir
  • Acyclovir

What Are Some Myths About Shingles?

Myth #1: Shingles and chickenpox are the same things

While they may have the same virus behind them, chickenpox and shingles are not the same. Shingles could easily last for a month, while chickenpox usually heals in about a week or two. Chickenpox blisters are itchy, whereas shingles blisters are painful. Chickenpox could spread to your body while shingles are limited to one area.

Myth#2: Only older and immuno-compromised people are susceptible to shingles

It’s true that the infection is commonly found in those over the age of 50, but it’s not entirely limited to them. People of any age can get it if they’ve had chickenpox.

Myth #3: Shingles only happens once

Even though the likelihood of shingles happening again is low, it isn’t zero. New bouts can still develop on your body unless you’re fully vaccinated.

Myth #4: There’s no discomfort other than rashes

While rashes are the primary symptom, shingles also comes with a number of other pain-inducing or uncomfortable symptoms. Some symptoms include fever, headache, muscle weakness, stomachaches, and even scarring.

Interesting Facts About Shingles

Fact #1: It has the ability to hurt your brain

Even though it’s not common, shingles around the forehead, ears, and eyes can also cause swelling in the brain, face paralysis, or difficulty hearing. In very few cases, the infection has also been linked to a stroke and brain tissue inflammation.

Fact #2: Vision loss is a possibility

Again, the possibility is very low but not zero. Painful, swollen, and red eyelids as a result of shingles should not be taken lightly. It could lead to a possible case of scarring or even blindness if left untreated. Look out for blisters on the nose tip as an early warning sign.

Fact #3: Vaccines are effective

Similar to many other conditions, vaccines don’t always guarantee no shingles. However, they can significantly reduce your chances of developing it. Even if you end up getting shingles, the symptoms will likely be less severe and much more manageable.

Fact #4: Shingles could be a result of stress

While shingles isn’t directly caused by stress, the latter is known to weaken a person’s immune system and suffer from the outbreak. Stress can also make the management harder and more painful. Moreover, it can cause you to have an illness that somehow ends up triggering the development of shingles.

In the end, there are many complications that can come with shingles. Even though it’s not a life-threatening infection, it can cause an immense amount of pain and discomfort along with some serious after-effects. Therefore, we recommend visiting a professional as soon as you notice the symptoms developing.