A canker sore is a painful ulcer that often develops within the mouth or tongue, but can also be found within the throat or on the lips. Canker sores should not be confused with cold sores (fever blisters), which are the result of a virus. There are several factors that can lead to canker sores, from spicy foods and vitamin deficiencies to stress or certain disorders.
While canker sores are benign and don’t require treatment, most of the time people are looking for ways to reduce canker sore pain until the sore heals on its own. There are two types of canker sores: simple and complex. Simple canker sores only appear a few times a year, usually lasting up to one or two weeks. Complex canker sores, on the other hand, aren’t as common and appear more frequently.
What causes canker sores?
While experts still don’t know what causes canker sores, we do know that there are certain things that can trigger the development of a sore. This includes:
- Spicy foods
- Acidic foods (e.g. lemons; tomatoes)
- Nutritional deficiencies (e.g. zinc; vitamin B-12)
- Minor injuries to the mouth (e.g. biting your cheek)
- Food sensitivities
- Hormonal changes
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Poor or weak immune system
- Celiac disease
When should I see a doctor?
It might be time to consult an ENT doctor if you are noticing:
- Sores that last several weeks
- Recurrent outbreaks
- Pain that isn’t responding to at-home care
- Severe pain that affects eating
- Extremely large sores
- Sores accompanied by a high fever
What are some ways to treat canker sores?
Most of the time canker sores do not require any treatment; however, if you are dealing with extremely large, painful or numerous sores then you may need to seek care from an ENT physician. Since canker sores will heal on their own, your doctor’s goal will be to help manage your pain through common treatment options such as:
- Topical medications: Over-the-counter or prescription medications can be used to numb the pain or even speed up the healing process.
- Oral rinses: To reduce inflammation or to numb the pain a doctor may prescribe a special mouth rinse.
- Oral medications: If canker sores aren’t responsive to other treatment options, oral medications may be recommended. Such options include steroids.
- Supplements: If your canker sores are the result of a nutritional deficiency then a doctor may recommend taking certain vitamins or supplements such as folic acid, vitamin B-12 or zinc.
If you are dealing with painful canker sores that you can’t seem to get under control then it’s time to turn to an ear, nose & throat specialist who can provide you with the answers you’re looking for.