- Do you have a red, painful sore at the corner of your mouth? It could be angular cheilitis
- Angular cheilitis is often mistaken for a cold sore or chapped lips, but it’s usually caused by a fungus
- Licking your licks excessively can contribute to angular cheilitis
If you have dry, cracked lips, and rubbing on chapstick doesn’t do the trick, then the culprit might not be chapped lips. You could have a skin condition most people don’t actually know about: angular cheilitis.
“Angular cheilitis is a skin condition that causes painful inflammation in one or both corners of your mouth,” says Dr. Sonia Batra, a dermatologist and co-host of the television show The Doctors. Batra estimates that angular cheilitis affects about 0.7% of the population, so while it’s not exactly super common, it’s not rare, either.
What causes angular cheilitis?
Basically, angular cheilitis is caused by saliva building up in the corners of your lips, which can cause them to become dry and cracked. “When saliva breaks down and inflames skin at the corners of the mouth, the inflamed patches can become colonized by bacteria or yeast that usually reside in the mouth,” Batra says.
The inflammation and cracking at the corners of the mouth can lead to painful sores. “As a result, this can make it difficult to open your mouth wide and some may experience a burning feeling on their lips or mouth,” says Batra. In more severe cases, some people may experience a bad taste in their mouth or difficulty eating, particularly if the irritation develops into open, bleeding blisters.
Often, people may lick their lips to try to alleviate the pain, but this actually might make it worse. “Doing so causes more saliva buildup, which creates an ideal environment for bacteria or a fungus like yeast to grow,” she says.
Angular cheilitis is often mistaken for a cold sore, but there’s a primary difference, Batra says: “Visually, angular cheilitis appears in the corner of the mouth as cracked, scaly skin, while cold sores can occur anywhere around the mouth. Usually, it looks like a cluster of small blisters that become crusted over a course of days,” she says.
“In addition, cold sores have life cycles, so you will often feel a burning or itching on a certain area of the lip before a blister forms. Angular cheilitis does not have warning signs until a sore appears.”
Who’s at risk?
Well, everyone, but some people are more susceptible to angular cheilitis than others. For instance, if you have deep lines around the corners of your mouth (also known as a “marionette lines”), saliva is more likely to pool in those deeper crevices, putting you more at risk of inflammation.
Angular cheilitis is also more common in people with recurrent oral thrush (fluffy white spots on the tongue or inner cheeks) due to an imbalance in a fungus called Candida, which can be caused by an immunodeficiency or frequent use of corcitosteroids or antibiotics, says Batra.
Smokers, people with braces, and people with sensitive skin are also more vulnerable to fungal infections. It’s also especially prevalent in the elderly: “elderly people often have excess saliva due to dentures, loss of teeth, and vitamin deficiencies that increase their risk,” Batra says.
How to treat angular cheilitis
“If you develop angular cheilitis, keep the inflamed area clean and dry to prevent the infection from worsening,” Batra says. “Your doctor may also prescribe a topical steroid cream to promote healing.” For more serious cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medication.
, including applying lip balm, petroleum jelly, or coconut oil to soothe and moisturize the irritated areas, Batra says. But be careful: if left untreated, the infection could worsen and spread to the surrounding skin or cause oral thrush.
To prevent angular cheilitis from occurring, stay hydrated, keep your lips dry, apply chapstick regularly, and practice good oral hygiene, Batra says. Also, stop licking your lips, because not only does it spread saliva, it also looks incredibly gross.
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