Canker sores (also known as aphthous ulcers) are an ulcerative condition inside the mouth that usually appear independently but may occur in association with underlying diseases or disorders that affect the immune system. The cause of canker sores is not understood, but canker sores are neither viral nor contagious. Current research theories suggest that canker sores may be caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the cells lining the mouth.
Canker sores are quite common – estimates range from about 20 percent to 60 percent of the population suffering from canker sores at some point in their lives – but the incidence of canker sores increases with HIV infection. The Mayo Clinic lists HIV as one factor associated with canker sore outbreaks.
Although HIV patients experience an increased incidence of canker sores, no causal link has been established between HIV and canker sores, and canker sores are not a diagnostic criterion for HIV.
Identifying a Canker Sore
Canker sores are ulcers that appear only inside the mouth. Usually white spots but sometimes grayish or ringed with red, canker sores are found inside the cheek, on the soft palate or on the edge of the tongue. Canker sores may be accompanied by fever, lethargy or swollen lymph nodes.
Canker sores are sometimes confused with cold sores, but the two types of lesions are distinct. Cold sores are blister clusters caused by the Herpes simplex type 1 virus. Cold sores are contagious, while canker sores are not. Cold sores spread outside the mouth.
Treating Canker Sores Associated with HIV
Canker sources are a scourge to HIV patients. In HIV patients, recurring canker sores are not only more common than in the general population, they tend to be larger, last longer and extend to other parts of the gastrointestinal tract, including the esophagus, genital area and anus. The canker sore lesions can be extremely painful and interfere with both eating and ingesting medicines.
Dr. David Resnik, writing in the bodyforum, advises that the treatment options for canker sores in HIV patients improved with the introduction of a new, over-the-counter product called Orabase Soothe-N-Seal. Orabase Soothe-N-Seal reduces the pain associated with canker sores by sealing off the nerve endings in the mouth that are causing the pain at the canker sore site.
Resnik also noted that for HIV-positive patients, topical corticosteroids are often necessary in treating canker sores to relieve inflammation.
Thalidomide is often successfully used to treat canker sores in HIV patients, particularly when other treatments have failed. This drug is not normally used for treating canker sores not associated with HIV, because it has been found to cause severe birth defects when taken during pregnancy.