Angular chelitis is an inflammatory condition that causes red, swollen patches on the corners of the mouth. It can be caused by certain fungal or bacterial infections and typically responds well to treatment.

Angular cheilitis is a type of mouth sore that appears at the corners of the mouth. Also known as angular stomatitis and perlèche, this condition can cause swollen, red patches in the corners and on the outside of your lips.

Unlike cold sores, which are caused by a type of herpes virus, angular cheilitis is an inflammatory condition that can be short-lived or chronic.

This article will explain what to expect if you have angular cheilitis and how it can be treated.

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

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

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

Other symptoms of angular cheilitis can include:

  • oral yeast infection (thrush)
  • eczema-type rash on the lower face
  • redness on the palate of the mouth (in denture wearers)
  • saliva at the corners of the mouth
  • deep cracks (called fissures)

Here are some images of angular cheilitis and cold sores for comparison.

There are several causes of angular cheilitis. Basically, saliva collects in the corners of your mouth and dries, cracking the tissue there.

Once cracked, this tissue stays moist and can become a welcoming environment for yeast and bacteria.

The most common culprits are Candida yeast or Staphylococcus bacteria.

Anyone can develop angular cheilitis, but there are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition, such as:

  • poor-fitting dentures
  • having misaligned teeth
  • losing a substantial amount of weight
  • frequently licking your lips
  • being a smoker
  • having nutritional deficiencies, especially in the vitamin B group
  • frequent use of antibiotics
  • using retinoid products
  • having a weakened immune system
  • being over the age of 75
  • having dry mouth
  • having inflammatory disorders like Sjögren’s syndrome
  • chronic health conditions such as diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • having Down syndrome

Angular cheilitis is usually diagnosed by a doctor or dermatologist. Your doctor will examine your mouth and check for other skin irritations elsewhere on your body. They will ask you about your medications and lifestyle and review your personal and family health history.

Because angular cheilitis can be a sign of a fungal or bacterial infection, your doctor may decide to take culture swabs from your mouth to send to a lab. However, this is usually only done if previous treatments are unsuccessful.

The underlying cause of angular cheilitis will determine how it’s treated. If your doctor determines that angular cheilitis is the result of a nutritional deficiency, they’ll likely suggest specific dietary or supplement recommendations.

If angular cheilitis is caused by a yeast infection, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication that you’ll apply to the affected area of your mouth.

If the underlying cause is a bacterial infection, your doctor will likely recommend a topical antibiotic ointment or cream.

Other treatment options may include:

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

If angular cheilitis is caused by dry mouth, there are steps you can take to reduce dry mouth symptoms. For instance, you can:

  • chew sugar-free gum
  • suck on hard candies or lozenges
  • use a humidifier in your home
  • stay well hydrated by drinking water frequently throughout the day

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

If it’s the result of a bacterial or fungal infection — which most are — the infection could spread to nearby skin. It could also lead to oral thrush if it’s not treated appropriately.

Angular cheilitis typically isn’t contagious from contact, as it’s not initially caused by a specific organism.

Mouth sores like cold sores are contagious because they are caused by a virus. However, bacteria and yeasts only grow in angulating cheilitis fissures over time, with continuous exposure to saliva.

If you aren’t sure if your sore is a cold sore or angular cheilitis, it’s best to avoid contact with others until you’ve received a proper diagnosis.

Good hygiene and strict skin care can help prevent angular cheilitis. By keeping the skin moistened around your mouth and free from irritation, you can help reduce the likelihood of bacteria or yeast buildup.

You may want to consider applying petroleum jelly or coconut oil to the corners of your mouth, which can form a barrier from saliva. Also, using lip balm regularly can help prevent chapped, dry lips.

You’ll also want to take steps to prevent dry mouth, which can trigger increased saliva production.

If your angular cheilitis is caused by the structure of the creases in your mouth, talk to your doctor about oral appliances or fillers that can help.

Angular cheilitis is a common inflammatory condition that affects the corners of your mouth. While it usually doesn’t require advanced treatment, you may want to see a doctor if your angular cheilitis doesn’t clear up within 2 weeks, gets worse, or comes back again.

Once your doctor is able to determine the underlying cause of angular cheilitis, it typically responds well to treatment.