What You Need to Know About Angular Cheilitis

Medically reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD on May 11, 2017Written by Ana Gotter on May 11, 2017

What is angular cheilitis?

Angular cheilitis (also known as angular stomatitis and perleche) causes swollen red patches in the corners on the outside of your lips.

It can occur on one or both sides of the mouth. It’s an inflammatory condition and can last a few days or be a chronic problem. It can affect people of all ages, including infants.

Pictures of angular cheilitis

Symptoms of angular cheilitis

Symptoms of angular cheilitis will almost exclusively appear at the corners of the mouth. The symptoms can be both physically painful and cosmetically frustrating. Symptoms can vary from having only mild redness to having open, bleeding blisters.

If you’re experiencing angular cheilitis, the corners of your mouth may be:

  • bleeding
  • red
  • swollen
  • cracked
  • blistered
  • crusty
  • itchy
  • scaly
  • painful

Other symptoms include:

  • bad taste in your mouth
  • burning feeling on your lips or mouth
  • lips feeling dry or chapped
  • difficulty eating as a result of the irritation

What causes angular cheilitis?

There are several different causes of angular cheilitis. The most common is yeast infection as a result of saliva.

Saliva can build up and get trapped in the corners of the lips, which causes the lips to crack. A person may lick their lips more in an attempt to soothe the pain or dryness of their lips. This excess saliva will sit in the corners of the lips, which is the perfect warm environment for fungus like yeast to grow.

Viruses and bacteria can also cause it to develop.

Certain people are more at risk for developing angular cheilitis. At-risk groups include those who:

  • have an overhang of the upper lip, creating deeper angles at the corners of the lips
  • have regular oral thrush
  • frequently use corticosteroids or antibiotics
  • have sensitive skin
  • have other inflammatory illnesses, like Crohn’s disease
  • use oral retinoid medication
  • wear braces
  • smoke
  • have anemia, diabetes, or cancer

How is angular cheilitis diagnosed?

Because angular cheilitis can be the sign of a fungal or bacterial infection, you should consult your doctor to determine how to treat it. Your primary physician can diagnose angular cheilitis, but dermatologists may be able to provide the best treatment.

Your doctor will examine the skin, and ask about any other skin irritations elsewhere on your body. They’ll likely ask you about your personal and family history of oral thrush and yeast infections. They’ll also ask what other conditions you have, and what medications you’re taking.

Your doctor will likely take culture swabs from the corners of the mouth, which they’ll send to a lab to test. This will help them definitively diagnose a cause.

Can angular cheilitis cause complications?

While many cases of angular cheilitis are relatively easy to treat, once your doctor identifies the underlying cause you do want to treat it.

If it’s the result of a bacterial or fungal infection — which most are — the infection could spread to adjacent skin. It could also lead to oral thrush.

How is angular cheilitis treated?

The underlying cause of the angular cheilitis will determine treatment. If your doctor suspects a nutritional deficiency, they will likely recommend making dietary or supplement recommendations.

If yeast is present, your doctor will likely prescribe a topical antifungal. Topical antibiotics will be used if a bacterial infection is responsible.

Other treatment options include:

  • topical antiseptics to keep open wounds clean
  • topical steroid ointment
  • filler injections to reduce the creases at the corners of the mouth

You can also use home treatments to treat your angular cheilitis, including:

  • using lip balm regularly to prevent chapped lips
  • applying petroleum jelly to the corners of the mouth
  • applying coconut oil to the corners of the mouth, which can help dry skin

What is the outlook for angular cheilitis?

Once your doctor is able to determine the underlying cause of angular cheilitis, it typically responds well to treatment. Many cases won’t even require treatment of any sort outside of applying lip balm to the lips or petroleum jelly to the corners of the mouth on a more regular basis. If you’ve tried home treatment and your symptoms haven’t resolved after two weeks, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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