Angular cheilitis is a skin condition that causes a person to experience lesions on the sides of the mouth. The name comes from the Greek term cheil, which means lips, and itis, which means inflammation.

The condition closely resembles another one that causes mouth lesions: cold sores or herpes lesions. Unlike cold sores, angular cheilitis usually isn’t contagious.

Keep reading to learn more about angular cheilitis, including symptoms, causes, treatments, and if it’s contagious.

Angular cheilitis causes a lesion to form at the mouth’s corners. It usually starts in the corner and can extend. The condition can cause the following symptoms at the mouth’s corners:

  • crusting
  • itching, pain, or soreness at the site
  • moist, open skin
  • redness
  • ulceration

Angular cheilitis isn’t always due to a specific underlying bacteria or virus, such as cold sores. This is why angular cheilitis isn’t contagious from contact, such as kissing or sharing a drink, like cold sores. Because the two conditions can closely resemble each other, it’s important to make sure your condition isn’t a cold sore first.

Certain factors are known to increase a person’s risks for angular cheilitis. These include:

  • anatomical changes to the jaw that cause the sides of the mouth to droop, such as tooth loss
  • biting the lips frequently
  • breathing mostly through the mouth
  • contact dermatitis, often from contact with dental materials, such as:
    • nickel
    • gold
    • mercury
    • cobalt
    • palladium
  • frequent lip licking
  • infections or exposure to pathogens, such as Candida albicans or Staph bacteria
  • nutritional deficiencies, such as iron or vitamin B
  • smoking
  • taking certain medications, such as paroxetine (Paxil), tetracyclines, and metronidazole (Flagyl)
  • thumb sucking
  • xerostomia, or dry mouth

Children tend to experience angular cheilitis more frequently than adults, with the incidence of between 0.7 and 3.8 percent for adults and between 0.2 and 15.1 percent in children.

Treatments for angular cheilitis depend upon the underlying cause. Your medical professional will usually try to determine what may have caused the condition to occur and treat the underlying cause.

For example, if they suspect a Candida infection is causing the lesions, they may prescribe an anti-fungal medication. Be sure to take all of the medication — otherwise, angular cheilitis is likely to come back.

A health professional may also consider dental appliances, such as dentures or braces, that could be causing the condition. If possible, they may change the appliance to a less allergenic material.

Topical applications may also help to reduce discomfort associated with angular cheilitis. Examples include putting petroleum jelly or lip balms on the lesions. These help to reduce drying and keep water out.

It’s also important to prevent dry mouth through mouthwashes or by using chewing gums that contain xylitol, a compound that can help reduce dry mouth. Taking vitamin supplements, such as iron or B vitamins, can often help, too.

Health professionals may recommend or prescribe treatments if others fail. Examples include surgery as well as pimecrolimus, an immune-suppressing medication.

Since angular cheilitis isn’t contagious, you can’t prevent it by avoiding things like kissing or using the same utensils as someone else, although this is a good infectious-disease preventing practice. While fungi and bacteria do contribute to angular cheilitis, these are present on most people’s skin and mucous membranes, such as the mouth.

Instead, steps to prevent angular cheilitis include:

  • Avoiding any substances known to worsen the condition, such as dental metals, fragrances, and other allergens
  • Using xylitol gum or mouthwashes to prevent dry mouth
  • Applying barrier ointments, such as petroleum jelly or zinc oxide-containing ointments, to prevent moisture loss
  • Applying topical anti-fungal creams if you frequently get angular cheilitis

Once you get angular cheilitis, it’s likely to come back. About 80 percent of people who have angular cheilitis have another episode within five years. Preventive steps can help you keep the condition from occurring as frequently.

Chronic, untreated angular cheilitis can cause scarring or discoloration of the skin at the corners of the lips. The condition can also cause tissue atrophy, where the tissues start to shrink, which can change a person’s appearance. However, doctors don’t usually associate angular cheilitis with severe medical side effects.

You should see a medical professional if your angular cheilitis is especially painful or starts to spread to the lips. Because angular cheilitis can resemble other medical conditions, such as cold sores or a Crohn’s disease-related infection, a medical professional can help you determine the precise underlying cause.

They can prescribe or recommend treatments that help reduce discomfort related to angular cheilitis. Ideally, these will help your body to heal and reduce irritation and inflammation from the condition.

Angular cheilitis is a noncontagious medical condition that causes you to experience sores or lesions on the sides of the mouth. There are many potential underlying causes of the condition, which can include dry mouth, medications taken, and underlying medical conditions. A doctor can prescribe or recommend treatments to help a person reduce the condition’s incidence.