Angular cheilitis is a common skin condition affecting the corners of your mouth. It leads to painful, cracked sores. People often confuse angular cheilitis with cold sores. Unlike cold sores, angular cheilitis isn’t contagious. This condition usually goes away with special skin ointments, medication or diet changes.
Angular cheilitis is a common inflammatory skin condition. It affects one or both corners of your mouth and causes irritated, cracked sores. Although painful, angular cheilitis usually isn’t serious.
Other names for angular cheilitis include angular stomatitis and perleche. Sometimes people confuse angular cheilitis with cold sores. But cold sores are a separate condition caused by a herpes virus. Cold sores are contagious; angular cheilitis is not.
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Angular cheilitis tends to be most common in the very old and very young. Elderly people may wear dentures or have sagging skin at the corners of their mouth that contributes to dry mouth corners. Pacifiers, thumb-sucking and drooling can irritate infants’ mouths.
Saliva collects at the corners of the mouth and causes dryness. Very dry skin in this area can lead to angular cheilitis. Over time, the dry skin may crack open. Sometimes bacteria or fungi get into the cracks, which can cause inflammation or an infection.
Causes of dry, cracked lip corners that can trigger angular cheilitis include:
People of any age, gender or ethnicity can develop angular cheilitis. Some factors that may increase your risk, include:
Angular cheilitis can cause the following symptoms at the corners of your mouth:
Your primary healthcare provider or a dermatologist (provider specializing in skin conditions) can diagnose angular cheilitis. They will:
They may do a mouth swab to test for viruses like herpes or fungal infections. Blood tests check for illnesses or nutritional deficiencies.
Cracked lip corners aren’t always the result of angular cheilitis. There are many conditions that can cause lip or mouth sores, including:
Your treatment plan depends on the cause of the angular cheilitis. It may include:
Some causes of angular cheilitis are unavoidable. But you can reduce your risk by:
Angular cheilitis usually isn’t serious. The condition often goes away about two weeks after starting treatment. Severe angular cheilitis can result in scarring or weak, thin skin if it isn’t treated.
Angular cheilitis can come back after treatment. For some people, the condition is chronic (ongoing). They may need to manage the condition for the rest of their lives.
As you treat the cause of angular cheilitis, you can reduce pain and swelling by:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Angular cheilitis is a common skin condition. It leads to cracking and irritation at the corners of your mouth. Angular cheilitis can have a variety of causes. If you develop irritation at the corners of your lips, talk to your healthcare provider. An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward effective treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/15/2021.
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