Those might not just be chapped lips....
With the weather getting colder, and cold and flu season upon us, it is also the time that you find your skin getting dry....and your lips are not immune to that. Sometimes your lips can actually get deep cracks in the corners of your lips, which can make opening your mouth really uncomfortable (painful, even) so eating, drinking, and talking are no fun. And those happen to be three of my favorite things! It can really be Angular cheilitis, which has an easy treatment, but many people have no idea what it is...and licking those lips can only make it worse.
What is cheilitis?
It is an inflamed lesion in the corners of your mouth, and it most often occurs on both sides, and they turn into deep cracks in the skin, which can eventually either bleed or crust over. I know, I make it sound so attractive! It can be caused by a few reasons: a fungal infection (like thrush), a bacterial infection, or from a vitamin deficiency. The most common vitamin deficiencies that cause cheilitis are Vitamin B12, zinc, and iron. It can also be brought on, in very rare cases, by a reaction to toothpaste, mouthwash, lipstick, etc.
Who is at risk?
Really anyone can get this if you are missing vitamins in their diet, but people suffering with anorexia and bulimia are at very high risk, for obvious reasons. Also people with ill fitting denatured or loss of teeth are at risk because their lips touch more and can become infected in the corners, and those with lowered immunity can be at risk for oral thrush infections which can then infect the corners of the mouth. Also, anyone exposed to the cold elements that licks their lips! Licking dry, cracked lips, can allow for worsening cracks and allow for bacteria to invade the tissues. Who knew?
It is contagious?
It is really only contagious if you have a decreased immune system from chronic disease or those getting treatment that can effect the immune system (such as chemotherapy for cancer treatment). Other than that, it really isn't usually contagious AND when most people have cheilitis, they do not feel like kissing or doing any activities that can make it spread.
How do we treat it?
If you have cheilitis from a vitamin deficiency, simply changing your diet OR adding a daily multivitamin can treat the deficiency and the outbreak can clear up. BUT you should go see your HCP if you think you have cheilitis, because you have no idea what the cause could be. If it is a bacterial infection, usually 7 days of antibiotic ointment applied twice daily to the area can clear up the infection. And if it is a fungal infection, the medication used to treat thrush, clotrimazole cream, (which is OTC) can be applied to clear up the infection. And, if it it due to a reaction, obviously ceasing to use the product and taking an antihistamine should help with clearing it up. With all of the treatments, in a few days it will clear up and in a week it will be completely cleared!
How can I prevent it?
Well, good oral hygiene is always a plus in life, but it also helps to prevent cheilitis, and if you wear dentures, make sure that they fit correctly, and see your dentist with some frequency to prevent any cheilitis outbreaks. Keep your lips moisturized in the cold weather, and eat a healthy diet!
Cheilitis can be very uncomfortable and not look very good but it is actually a pretty easy thing to treat, you just need to be able to identify it, find out what is that cause, and you will be fixed in no time! So, make sure to go see your HCP if you think you have cheilitis and find out the cause, and if you get it frequently, you might need to make some diet or lifestyle changes to help and prevent the infections from reoccurring.
Yours in Good Health