When it comes to distinguishing between shingles (herpes zoster) and cold sores, it’s not always easy, even for medical professionals.
However, the extent of the distress they cause differs significantly. Shingles can be excruciatingly painful, comparable to the pain experienced during childbirth. As people reach their 50s and 60s, the fear of shingles intensifies, as the condition becomes more common in this age group. The sight of blisters appearing on one side of the body alone can be terrifying.
Mr. Hanmo, a 61-year-old nearing retirement, experienced a similar fear. He recently developed several blisters around his mouth, making it uncomfortable to speak or eat. As time passed without the blisters disappearing and pain accompanying them, his fear grew. Urgently visiting the hospital, he received the diagnosis of not having shingles but rather cold sores. He heaved a sigh of relief and left with medication to alleviate the symptoms.
“Shingles and cold sores have different viral causes. While cold sores occur locally in one area, shingles present as a band-like pattern along the nerves,” explained Kim Yunmi, a manager at the Comprehensive Health Examination Center.
In the case of cold sores, the herpes simplex virus, the simplest among the Human Herpes Viruses, enters the skin and mucous membranes, resulting in the formation of blisters.
So why do they suddenly appear?
According to Kim Yunmi, cold sores are “transmitted through direct contact with a person infected by the virus.” Furthermore, once a person has been infected, the virus lies dormant in nerve tissues called ganglia and can easily reactivate and cause symptoms when the immune system weakens or due to stress and inflammation.
Cold sores can be categorized into Type 1, which occurs above the waist, and Type 2, which occurs below the waist. The symptoms vary depending on an individual’s immune status and the affected area.
The most common site for oral herpes is the border of the lips, but it can also appear on the cheeks, chin, nose, and oral mucosa. It may be accompanied by a burning sensation, pain, and itching before the appearance of blisters. In the case of Type 2, which causes blisters around the genital area, it is considered a sexually transmitted infection and can be accompanied by muscle aches, fever, fatigue, and weakness.
Cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus are characterized by the clustering of blisters, resembling a grape cluster. In most cases, they heal naturally with proper hygiene maintenance of the infected area.
However, the problem arises when they are left unattended, as complications and lingering effects can worsen. If symptoms persist or complications arise, antiviral treatment is necessary.
While vaccination is the best prevention method for shingles, lifestyle improvements are key to preventing simple cold sores.
Maintaining good overall health through proper nutrition, adequate sleep, managing fatigue and stress, and prioritizing personal hygiene, such as handwashing, are essential. It is particularly advisable to avoid sharing hygiene items like towels or cups with colleagues or family members.