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.