Sores

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What are sores?

A sore is a blister, bump, lesion or ulcer occurring anywhere on the body. The sore may be painful, itchy, red, swollen, or tender to the touch. The sore may be hard or filled with fluid. The surface of the sore may be broken and bleeding. Some sores may not be associated with pain.

There are numerous causes of sores, which range from mild to serious. Sores may occur as the result of a single incident or recur frequently. The type and severity of the sore varies with the underlying cause.

The herpes simplex virus is a common cause of recurrent sores on the mouth, fingers or genitals. The resulting sores on your mouth and lips are commonly called cold sores or fever blisters. Extended bed rest or use of a wheelchair may cause pressure sores. These sores develop due to limited blood flow to the part of the body that is always under pressure from the bed or chair.

Other common causes of sores include allergic reactions, insect bites, eczema, and infections such as chickenpox. Injury may also result in sores. Sores may also occur as a symptom of an underlying disease or serious condition, such as diabetes, leukemia or skin cancer.

Sores are rarely associated with a medical emergency. However, sores may be a symptom of a serious condition such as an infection. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience sores with other signs of infection, such as high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit). In rare cases, infections can spread throughout the body, resulting in shock and organ failure.

If your sores are persistent or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with sores?

Sores may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the skin may also involve other body systems.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with sores

Sores may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin including:

  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Burning feeling
  • Itchy feeling
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Tingling or other unusual sensations
  • Ulcer formation

Joint symptoms that may occur along with sores

Sores may accompany symptoms related to joints including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with sores

Sores may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Bleeding of the mouth and gums
  • Body aches and general ill feeling
  • Dizziness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the arms (near elbow or underarm) or groin
  • Excessive thirst
  • Eye pain or irritation
  • Fever
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Red streaks moving away from the sores
  • Stuffy nose or nasal condition

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, sores may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition which should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have sores along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing or speaking
  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea) or shortness of breath
  • Reduced urine production
  • Sudden swelling of the face, lips or tongue
  • Wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)

What causes sores?

Sores have many causes. The type and severity of sore varies with the underlying cause.

Common causes of sores include the herpes simplex virus (resulting in a cold or genital sore), allergic reactions, eczema, and chickenpox. Extended bed rest or use of a wheelchair may cause pressure sores. Sores may also occur as a symptom of an underlying disease or serious condition, such as diabetes, leukemia, or skin cancer.

Diseases and disorders known to cause sores

Common diseases and disorders known to cause sores include:

  • Autoimmune disorders

  • Bleeding disorders such as hemophilia (rare hereditary disorder in which the blood does not clot normally)

  • Cancers

  • Dermatitis (rash)

  • Diabetes (chronic disease that affects your body’s ability to use sugar for energy)

  • Eczema

  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)

  • Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord)

Infections that may cause sores

Sores can result from a number of infections including:

  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying soft tissue)

  • Chickenpox

  • Herpes simplex virus

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Papillomavirus infection (plantar warts)

  • Paronychia (infection of the cuticle)

  • Scabies

  • Sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis

  • Shingles (herpes zoster)

Conditions and situations that may cause sores

Common conditions and situations that may cause sores include:

  • Bite and sting injuries

  • Drug allergies to medications such as penicillin or codeine

  • Extended bed rest

  • Food allergies (allergic reaction to certain foods)

  • Medication side effects or reactions

  • Stress or irritation

  • Trauma

  • Weakened immune system

  • Wheelchair use

Serious or life-threatening causes of sores

In some cases, sores may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of sores

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your sores including:

  • How long have you had the sores?

  • Have you had similar sores previously?

  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with your sores?

  • Are you taking any medications?

What are the potential complications of sores?

Because sores can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Organ failure or dysfunction

  • Severe discomfort or pain

  • Shock

  • Skin ulcerations and infections

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

  • Vitamin deficiencies

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 30
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Cold sores. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/coldsores.html
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  4. Ferri FF (Ed.) Ferri’s Fast Facts in Dermatology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier, 2011.