Cold Sores Vs. Impetigo: What Are the MAIN Differences?

While cold sores and impetigo share some visual similarities, the ailments are quite different. Understanding these main variances will dramatically modify your course of action.

The core differences between cold sores and impetigo are found in the root of each condition. Cold sores stem from a virus while impetigo is the result of a bacterial infection.

Another point of note is that impetigo can be cured. Cold sores, on the other hand, can’t be treated but the virus responsible will remain in the body forever. There isn’t currently a permanent cure for fever blisters.

Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences...

Everything That You Need to Know about Cold Sores

How Are Cold Sores Transmitted?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. Classified into two categories, HSV-1 and HSV-2, most cold sores are the result of HSV-1.

It is usually contracted through acts such as kissing, sharing utensils, sharing drinks, etc. HSV-riddled saliva penetrates the tiny cracks in a person’s mouth and lips. Once the virus becomes embedded, the HSV-1 transfer has been completed.

What Are the Symptoms of Cold Sores?

Hallmarked by noticeable blisters around the mouth, cold sores can be painful. Also known as fever blisters, they form, break and then ooze. Once that natural process has completed a scab will develop. They remain contagious until a scab has covered the blister. While a cold sore will not form right away, the virus is indeed present.

Newly infected individuals typically have their first outbreak within 2-3 weeks. Cold sores usually form at or near the area of original transfer. Early symptoms typically involve a slight tingling or itching around the transfer location. Known triggers such as illness, stress, certain foods, trauma, etc. can activate the virus and cause a cold sore.

How Are Cold Sores Treated?

While HSV-1 cannot be cured in the literal sense, it can be properly treated. Even without treatment, the duration of an outbreak will normally last no longer than 3-4 weeks. While an inconvenience, HSV is not deadly if you are a healthy adult.

Depending on the treatment, cold sores typically last 10-14 days. However, the healing time can be reduced dramatically courtesy of various creams, patches, and devices. One of the best choices is HERP-B-GONE because it can enable you to heal in as little as 3 days.

In summary...

  • HSV-1 is a virus, not a bacteria. Fever blisters are the most visible sign of the virus. While it cannot be cured, it can be treated swiftly.
  • Transmission is achieved when HSV-infected saliva enters the body. Most notably through small abrasions on the lips or mouth region.
  • Cold sores typically appear at the transmission site. Blisters on the lips, for example, are likely the byproduct of kissing, sharing beverages, etc. Various triggers can cause a cold sore once the virus enters the body.

Everything That You Need to Know about Impetigo

Impetigo is a skin infection caused by bacteria. Similar to cold sores, impetigo causes noticeable blisters that form, break, and then ooze. The conclusion of this process is the appearance of a yellowish brown crust or scab. Impetigo can appear anywhere on the body.

While adults can fall victim to this bacteria, impetigo is most common in children. This bacterial infection is also highly contagious. The infection can be transferred by sharing material items. Notable objects such as clothing, towels, bed sheets, etc. Scratching the infected area can also cause impetigo to spread. This is why the condition is often difficult to treat in children.

What Causes Impetigo?

Unlike cold sores, which are the product of a virus, impetigo is the result of bacteria. Categorized into two types, strep and staph can both cause impetigo. These notable bacteria agents will enter the skin after the area has already been irritated by something else. Cuts, burns, insect bites, etc., can potentially open the door for impetigo.

To recap...

  • Impetigo stems from bacteria. It is not a virus.
  • Impetigo can form at any location of the body and it is highly contagious. Scratching the problem area can cause it to spread. This is a big concern for children who are most commonly infected.
  • This bacterial infection looks like a cold sore in many ways. Especially the appearance of blisters.
  • Strep and staph are the two bacteria of note that cause impetigo. These bacterial agents attack the irritated skin.

What are the Visual Differences Between Cold Sores and Impetigo?

While the line can be quite blurred, there are some slight visual differences.

Here are 4 ways to tell cold sores and impetigo apart:

  1. Cold sores, for the most part, form red blisters. This is vital to know when attempting to make a visual comparison. Although impetigo can be red, these bacteria-riddled blisters break quickly and turn brown.
  2. Another point of note is that impetigo spreads much faster than cold sores.
  3. Additionally, impetigo never develops inside the mouth. Impetigo can form anywhere on the body. Although not uncommon, that is by and large not the case with HSV-1. The odds of finding a cold sore on your knee, for example, is minimal.
  4. While not a true test of the eyes, impetigo is usually painless. While cold sores can cause discomfort, impetigo is essentially visual only. Early stages of cold sore development also involve tingly of the infected area. This is typically not the case for impetigo.

If you are in doubt about your condition, you are encouraged to consult your physician.

Final takeaways...

  • Cold sore blisters are typically red in color. This is not always the case with impetigo lesions.
  • Impetigo spreads much faster than cold sores. Impetigo can also promote a rash-like appearance in short order.
  • The onset of a cold sore is typically hallmarked by a tingling in the infected area. This is usually not the case with impetigo.
  • Finally, because impetigo is a bacteria it usually preys on skin that has already been manipulated. This is why impetigo can occur anywhere on the body. Cold sores are not likely to appear in random regions. Remember, HSV is a virus transmitted by bodily fluids. Most notably HSV-infected saliva. This is one of the reasons why you rarely see cold sores in areas other than the mouth, lips, nose, eyes, cheeks, and genital region.

Cold sore become infected with impetigo

How Long Does it Take for Impetigo to Go Away?

While potentially similar, there is a difference between impetigo being no longer contagious and the bacteria “going away,” if you will.

Although the actual sore will typically begin to heal within 2-5 days with proper treatment, the condition is still present. While the infection might not be contagious after 24 hours or so, the infection is still there.

Depending on the severity of your condition, and notable setbacks, it might take 14-20 days for all signs of impetigo to be gone.

While scarring is not all that common with this infection, marks left by the infection can linger. This is especially true if the area was repeatedly scratched and manipulated. This is similar to cold sores in some regards.

Final takeaways...

  • Impetigo can linger for days and potentially weeks after it is no longer contagious.
  • Scarring, while not common, can occur. This is usually the result of a severe case or extensive manipulation. This type of result typically is found in children.

How is Impetigo Treated?

Impetigo is usually treated through means of an antibiotic cream or ointment. Before applying the remedy you might be encouraged to gently add warm water to the area to remove all existing scabs. This is advised so that the prescribed antibiotics can reach the skin.

If you have fallen victim to a severe case of impetigo your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics. This course of action will usually span one month. By taking the full dosage you can build up your resistance to the bacteria and potentially prevent future issues.

While impetigo can give an alarming visual appearance, it is very easy to treat in the majority of cases.

Here are some final takeaways...

  • Impetigo is traditionally treated with antibiotic ointment or cream.
  • To treat properly, the use of warm water to remove existing scabs will likely be advised. This removal allows for the antibiotics to reach the core of the problem area.
  • In severe cases, antibiotics can be administered in pill form. This course of action will not only allow you to heal but also build up resistance. This can potentially prevent a future occurrence of impetigo.

How Long Is Impetigo Contagious?

Impetigo can be contagious for a two-week period or as little as 24 hours. This depends on proper diagnosis and treatment methods. Non-treated cases will obviously be on the increased end of the scale. Impetigo is deemed no longer contagious once visible sores disappear.

If you are a parent it is vital that you monitor your child. Encourage them not to scratch the problem area. This will only make the infection worse, more contagious, and more difficult to heal. As noted earlier, impetigo can spread quite rapidly. The greater the coverage area, the longer the condition.

In summary...

  • Impetigo is highly contagious, but so much of its lifespan depends on treatment and personal habits. If left untreated, impetigo can last two weeks or more. However, if proper antibiotics are received the visible sores can heal within 24-48 hours. Impetigo is deemed to be no longer contagious once the sores have vanished.
  • Scratching the infected area can make impetigo worse in many respects. This obviously includes spreading the virus, increased healing time, and a long duration of a contagious state. If you are a parent it is important to monitor your child. Irritation of the skin by human contact can create a series of problems and setbacks.

Difference between cold sores and impetigo

Is Impetigo Preventable?

While there is no foolproof prevention from either cold sores or impetigo, there are several positive actions you can take.

If you encounter any cuts, scrapes, or abrasions on your body it is vital to clean them ASAP. By using anti-bacterial soap and warm water you can kill the infection. The sooner this action is taken, the better you will be in terms of fending off impetigo. This type of action is also needed if your skin manipulation is due to an insect bite.

Once the problematic area has been treated, cover the area with a medicated bandage. This will seal the area, prevent infection, and allow the skin to heal.

Noted below are some daily habits that you can develop to shield bacteria.

  • Wash your hands often. It is important that each session lasts for 15 and 30 seconds.
  • Avoid sharing towels, clothing, bedding, and various personal items.
  • Wash your clothing using detergents and warm water. Clothes should also be dried accordingly at a hot setting. This will eliminate any potential germs that could reside in wet clothing.
  • While daily showering is important it is even more so after exercise or hard labor. If you have worked up a sweat during the day it is critical to shower. This will cleanse your body of bacteria and keep problem areas on your skin from becoming infected.

Can a Cold Sore Turn Into Impetigo?

Potentially. Although cold sores are the product of a virus and impetigo is caused by bacteria, infected cold sores can produce impetigo. Although the odds are not likely, they do exist.

If impetigo does occur the existing cold sore outbreak area will likely stay contained. However, branching off from that area would be the impetigo rash and blisters. This scenario would obviously create a new issue.

Both active cold sores and impetigo are highly contagious. Acting in tandem, you would have to be extremely cautious regarding your interactions. Scratching, as noted earlier, can serve to spread the impetigo bacterial infection.

However, it is worth noting, that cold sores becoming impetigo is not likely. If your cold sores are treated properly then odds of a bacterial infection (of any type) are quite minimal.

To recap...

  • Cold sores can lead to impetigo if the sores become infected. However, proper treatment of cold sores should eliminate this scenario.
  • Both cold sores and impetigo are highly contagious. Being mindful of your interactions would become paramount if impetigo does occur. Scratching the bacteria-infected area can lead to spreading and more problems.

Cold Sores and Impetigo: Two VERY Different Conditions

The summary of this material, other than the obvious distinction between the two conditions, is protection and prevention.

If cold sores and impetigo have one common bond it is that they are both the result of an infection. Although one is viral and one is bacterial, both can be prevented. While even those with the best intentions fall short, taking preventative measures is important.

Here are three options to keep impetigo at bay:

  1. kill bacteria and heal with antibacterial healing ointments or creams
  2. wash impetigo sores with potent tea tree oil

Last update on 2019-09-09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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