There are many differences between a cold sore and a pimple. You should be able to differentiate between the two by the look and feel of the outbreak. While cold sore is a viral infection and comes out only on the lips or surrounding area, pimples are caused due to bacterial infection in the clogged pores and can come out at any part of the face or body. It might be a bit difficult to identify if it is a pimple or a cold sore with certainty at the very beginning of the outbreak, but you should be able to differentiate between the two within a day.
Pimples and cold sores have different causes as well as different treatments. To differentiate between the two easily it is important that you have a clear idea about both of them. Read on to know about cold sores and pimples, so that you can differentiate between them easily.
What are cold sores?
Cold sores are more commonly called as fever blisters and they particularly appear on the lips. However, in some cases they can even occur in the nearby area of the lips. Cold sores are caused due to infection of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). Oral cold sores are caused by HSV-1 virus. Once the virus has infected a host, they continue living in the nerve endings of the host for whole life. However, you will not see the cold sores always.
When due to some reasons the immunity of the body takes a dip, these viruses become more active and the cold sores appear. This is why you commonly see them after you have got a fever. There are also people who get cold sores only during the initial infection but the virus always continues to live in the body of the host in an inactive condition.
The primary problem with HSV 1 virus is that they are highly contagious. A host carrying the virus can infect another host even when he or she is not showing the symptoms of cold sores. This happens more commonly if the immunity of the person getting the new infection is low. During the cold sores, the virus becomes even more active and the chance of infecting another healthy host is multiplied.
HSV-1 or the infection of cold sores can pass from one host to another through many ways. Direct touch is certainly one of the most common ways of passing the infection to a new host. It can also be passed through sharing the same towel, utensils or razor with someone already infected by the virus.
When do cold sores appear?
Having a clear idea about when usually cold sores appear can be most helpful to differentiate between a cold sore and a pimple. There are people who experience regular outbreak of cold sores. However, there is also a group of people who experience cold sores only if they are suffering from certain illness, weakness, high stress, a deficiency in the immunity system, recovering from an injury or lacking on sufficient rest. Cold sores can also appear due to sun exposure and during menstruation in females.
How they feel
Cold sores are painful and they can be a real botheration when a person is already ill or suffering from another health condition. Before the cold sores come out, the host is most expected to feel an itching and burning sensation in the area. After the blisters come out, they will crack and ooze a liquid before drying out on their own. The total process of cold sore breakout and drying up naturally takes 2-3 weeks in otherwise healthy people.
How they look
Cold sores do not carry a prominent tip or head. They look like a cluster of small blisters and not like pimples. A single cold sore is generally smaller in size than a pimple but they mostly appear in clusters, which is not very common for pimples on the lips.
How to treat cold sores
If you have got HSV-1 infection, you cannot get rid of it permanently. Even if you do not have cold sores at a point of time, the virus is still in your system and can come alive any time. To treat painful cold sores antiviral pills and ointments are usually prescribed. This treatment helps in controlling the outbreak quickly and fastens the scabbing and healing of the sores.
It has been observed that exposure to sun can increase the severity of cold sores. So, if you have got cold sores, it is best to avoid sun exposure for the time span.
Having elaborated on cold sores which are a highly contagious viral infection, now let us elaborate on pimples, so that you can easily differentiate between the two.
What is a pimple?
A pimple is generally a small red bump with or without a tip, caused due to infection of bacteria on a clogged skin pore. Pimples can come out in any area of your body, starting from on your face, on the lips to any other part of your body.
When skin pores get clogged with dead cells, debris, oil and other pollutants, they swell up, as the oil secreted from the pores is not able to reach the skin surface. Once bacteria infect these clogged pores, pimples come out. A pimple can have a blackhead, a whitehead or no heads at all. However, in every case they appear much different than the cold sores.
Bacterial infection causes a clogged pore to turn to a pimple, and it might infect another skin pore or someone else only if the bacteria infected pus within the pimple comes in direct contact. However, if there are no clogged pores, the bacteria from one pimple, might not actually be able to infect another healthy pore on the same host or another host.
Pimples can never be classified as contagious and to say the least they are a much smaller and easier to deal with skin problem than cold sores.
When do pimples appear?
Pimples can appear any time, irrespective of the condition of your immunity system or other health problems. Any time when you have clogged pores on the skin, you can have pimples. However, if you have a digestive problem or vitamin deficiencies in the body, you might start getting more pimples.
If you do not maintain proper skin hygiene or if you share your towel and belongings with someone who has a lot of pimples, you might start getting pimples. Hormonal imbalance in the body and stressful lifestyle are some of the other common reasons of pimple breakouts.
How pimples look and feel
Pimples look like red bump on the skin, with or without a head. Usually the head of a pimple is formed only once the pimple is matured enough and the pus reaches close to the skin surface. Pimples can be painful and irritating but they are hardly as serious and painful as cold sores. You might not actually feel a thing before a pimple comes out, but in case of cold sores you will start feeling the itch and uncomfortableness in the area even before the sores appear.
How to treat pimples
Treating pimples is a much easier thing to do in comparison with treating the cold sores. If you are ready to take the right measures and put in the extra effort, you can be completely free from pimples within 3-8 months, even if you used to have severe and frequent pimple outbreaks. A normal pimple usually dries off on its own within 3-7 days.
On the other hand, a HSV-1 infection can never be cured completely. One can only treat the sores with antiviral medications and ointments, but they still continue to live in the body of the host.
For treating pimples maintaining a thorough skin care routine is all that you need, unless your pimples are caused due to hormonal imbalance, vitamin deficiency or another underlying health condition.
You can follow a religious Cleansing-Toning-Moisturizing routine twice a day with anti-acne products. Maintain the best hygiene and opt for homemade anti-acne treatments to get rid of pimples completely.
You can also pop a fully matured pimple maintaining some precautions and following the right methods. However, you should never pop a cold sore. It will automatically break open and ooze out before drying up.
Is it a pimple or cold sore?
So, to find out if the painful red bump on or near your lips is a pimple or cold sore, first observe it closely, without touching it in anyway. If it seems like having a thicker upper layer, most probably it is a pimple. Cold sores will appear in bunches and the upper layer of the sores are much thinner, that makes them look like small blisters.
A pimple can be painful but the irritation associated with the eruption of cold sores is something different and much more bothering. Even if you have confusion about it at the beginning, you are sure to be relieved from all the confusions within 1-2 days after the eruption, because the cold sores and pimples look and feel different.
Once you are sure about the outbreak, you can take the necessary steps to treat it quickly.