There are many skin problems that you may be unlucky enough to suffer from at some time in your life, but it can often be difficult to identify exactly what it is that you’ve got. Some skin complaints can look remarkably like another but the treatment might be very different.
I’ve often wondered exactly what the difference was between this collection of blistery conditions. So here is a whistle stop tour of cold sores, shingles, eczema herpeticum and impetigo.
What is herpes simplex, or the cold sore virus?
Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and once contracted can lay dormant in nerve cells for years.
Triggers include being run down, getting stressed, menstrual cycle, exposure to direct sunlight and even certain foods. There is no cure for cold sores.
If you’ve had one, chances are you’ll get them again, but there are loads of natural remedies and actions you can take to minimise attacks. Cold sores appear on the lips and can appear in and around the mouth. They are painful blisters which are very contagious.
Read 15 Natural Cold Sore Remedies here.
What are shingles or herpes zoster?
Shingles, as the name suggests, is similar to the cold sore virus, but there are some key differences and similarities. You can only get shingles of you’ve already had chicken pox and the virus that causes this lies dormant in your body in certain nerve cells and can be triggered by a period of stress or being run down. So if your immune system is particularly low a shingles attack can be triggered.
Shingles shows as a nasty blistery rash which usually appears after two to three days. It starts as a slight red rash and builds to the blisters. You may feel a sharp burning pain and/or itching. Shingles can appear anywhere on the body but most often occurs on the trunk of the body as a band across the chest or back. If you come into contact with someone who hasn’t had chicken pox whilst you have shingles, they could catch chicken pox from you, but shingles is not contagious. The blisters should crust over in about one week.
What is eczema herpeticum?
Eczema herpeticum is caused by the same virus as the cold sore, herpes simplex.
However, for a person with eczema the herpes virus can spread across the skin, and not be confined to the mouth and lips. In very severe and rare cases it can be fatal.
A person with eczema herpeticum is likely to feel very unwell and also have a high temperature, they will also have cold sore type blisters which can cover the whole body where eczema and compromised skin barriers have been infected.
This picture is of me and is in the latter stages as the virus heals. It probably took about two weeks to go from blisters to healed so takes a while to heal.
What is impetigo?
Impetigo is caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. It is often caught by children but adults can get it too. It causes blisters on the skin, and can appear anywhere on the body but usually as painless fluid filled blisters on the trunk or legs. Keeping the skin clean should prevent this infection spreading and also make it less likely you’ll get it, but people with eczema can have much higher natural levels of staph aureus bacteria on their skin, making them far more susceptible. Impetigo is infectious so you should avoid contact, use separate face cloths and towels and wash the infected area with soap and warm water. You can get creams or ointments from you doctor to speed healing, and for serious infections an anti-bacterial cream may be necessary. I don’t have a picture of this condition as I don’t think I’ve ever had it before. Check out the NHS Impetigo information page to find out more.
Did this help? Have you ever had one or many of the above? Please seek medical advice if you think you have any of the above conditions. I’m not a doctor, just a person who has experienced the conditions above.
Great informative post! Unfortunately, most people don’t know the difference between all these skin conditions.
Yes Michelle – including my Doctor! Who assured me last year that impetigo on my face, and in my eye is not contagious, nor will it spread, and that I should moisturise my whole face more often. Now what do you think happened? Yep – you guessed it. It spread across the whole side of my face! Idiot! I went back to see another doctor for the correct advice and sensible treatment!
Les Booth says
Ruth .. eczema is caused by a virus that lives on and in every human being. Most of the time it remains ‘in check’ by the bodies immune system.
However, when that immune system is compromised, as in a full blown MCS condition, the herpes simplex will explode and cause near immediate (within 15-20 min) eczemic response. This condition is more pronounced in MCS sufferers whom are acutely allergic to penicillin; as I am.
The question of which causes the trigger: bacteria or virus: is really a ‘chicken or egg’ question. It really doesn’t matter when it comes to a compromised immune system. When a person is allergic to the base fungal element of antibiotics then the stage is set. Push the right buttons, with the right chemicals and voila! … you have a response. And I guarantee .. it’s not a nice one. I’ve been there far too many times.
As to the knowledge Doctors – on an individual basis – or better yet as a collective Medical awareness – have or do not have … well, the stats speak for themselves.
“A 2000 Institute of Medicine report estimated that medical errors are estimated to result in about between 44,000 and 98,000 preventable deaths and 1,000,000 excess injuries each year in U.S. hospitals.” – Wikipedia on search: ‘deaths in US due to misdiagnosis’ – rendered the Wikipedia topic: Medical error.
This is only the first paragraph in a multiple paragraph revelation of how unprepared the medical community is in preventing such errors. Errors that take lives, maim, and disrupt lives … annually.
There is an answer and it’s called: Education.
The population: you, me and all those who live and breath on planet earth, must begin YESTERDAY to educate ourselves about our bodies: operations, mechanics, preventions and solutions. If we don’t care enough about our own bodies and how they work to learn … then, well, we deserve what we get as a result of our own ignorance. That may sound tough .. and so be it. It is the first wave of personal responsibility; which by-the-way, comes with no emotional ties. It is purely ON or OFF; it works or it doesn’t. Take it or be taken.
The medical institution: that entity which believes it is the sole possessor of knowledge, understanding and healing of the ailments and troubles experienced by the human body. This is NOT true. They only know it better than the average earth-bound-human, because we, earth-bound-humans have allowed that to be.
Our own laziness and apathy toward learning gives those in the medical field, any sort of ‘power over us’. Thus, when we so often gripe, grumble and complain about the mistreatment bestowed upon us by the malignancy called ‘modern medicine’, we should be including our own culpability as well.
Truly, we only have ourselves to blame. If we knew more, we could be far better at keeping the ‘toes-of-the-medical-community’ to the fire of accountability. But, because of our apathy, we have abdicated any control over our own body and the caring for it.
The 1970 cartoon strip of Pogo laid the fault where it duly lies: “I have seen the enemy and he is us.”
We have done this for so long, we even believe in our own ‘intellectual Kool-Aid’: They know better.
They – the medical community – only know more because we have failed to educate ourselves. We do not need to be heart surgeons, brain surgeons, geneticists, microbiologists or any other of the myriad of specialists populating the medical science fields. We only need to have a working understanding equivalent of a graduate of nursing school to be able to handle most basic problems.
In older times such information was passed down among family members because access to the ‘medicine of the day’ could have been days away. Thus, anyone on the frontier without a basic knowledge of herbs, diet and ‘cures’ …. were pretty well guaranteed to add to the early death stats. Even with this knowledge, many ended up there anyway. Due, not to a lack of trying to be prepared, but mostly due to either bad information or a lack of proper information.
Today there is no excuse for a person, having access to online information to be uninformed. And you don’t need to become an addict of gossip, disinformation, misinformation or quackery. There are plenty of very good sources online that will educate you about the basics of Anatomy, Physiology, Neurology, Biochemistry, Clinical Conditions, Pharmacology, Prevention and Repair.
So, the bottom line is this: If you are living uninformed, it is your own fault, not that of the medical error. If you ARE informed, then – unless you enter the labyrinth of medicine unconscious – you have a far better chance of being a more effective advocate for your own health and survival.
Thus, don’t blame medicine if you have not prepared your own database. That is, after all, what happens when we survive a miscue and live to tell others about it. We become informed the hard way. That just isn’t necessary. But it sure seems to be the most popular form of education. And that my fellow earth-bound-humans, is just plain irresponsible. Some – including me – would say, it’s just plain stupid.
Hi Les. I haven’t heard from you in a while. Hope you’re keeping well. I couldn’t remember what MCS was but when I spotted your logo and remembered Your Smells are Killing me I worked it out. YOSAKIME! Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I too have learnt the hard way that doctors don’t have all the answers, and that we need to take control and find better ways to keep healthy. Who wants anti-biotics or other such drugs to ‘cure’ something when it isn’t necessary. Doctors do have their place though.Some can be very helpful and knowledgeable but usually only when you get through to see a specialist.
Geoffrey Richard says
If I take a photo of my “rash”, can you identify it?
Ruth Holroyd says
Hi Geoffrey, probably not the best person to ask but your doctor would.