An itchy sensation on your lips can happen suddenly and be quite uncomfortable. Most of the time, having itchy lips is related to a contact or seasonal allergy. Sometimes, having itchy lips is a symptom of other less common health conditions. Keep reading to find out what could be causing your lips to feel itchy.
Allergic contact cheilitis
Allergic contact cheilitis is the term for itchy or inflamed lips caused by exposure to an allergen. Lip cosmetics, sunscreens, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and medications can all cause your lips to have this kind of reaction. Foods that contain preservatives, fragrances, or artificial flavorings are also common culprits.
This condition makes your lips look swollen and creates patches of scaly or itchy skin on your lips. This condition is temporary and should resolve within 24 hours of contact with an allergy.
There are some prescription medications that cause itchy lips as a side effect. Retinoid treatments (isotretinoin, acitretin, alitretinoin) are known to have this side effect. They can also make your lips crack and bleed. Allergies to penicillin-based antibiotics, like amoxicillin, can also cause your lips to feel itchy.
This kind of lip inflammation is caused by overstimulating the sensitive skin on your lips. Habits like lip licking and lip biting can cause your lips to become swollen and feel itchy. This condition will go away if you’re able to stop the behavior that’s irritating your lips, but it could continue to recur as long as your lips are being irritated. This condition is most common in children and adolescents.
As the name suggests, this kind of lip inflammation comes from your lips being exposed to extreme heat, wind, or cold temperatures for a prolonged period of time. This condition is more likely to occur in people who live in climates where extreme temperatures happen often, and in people who work outside. This condition is frequently accompanied by cracking or bleeding lips.
There are some bacterial, viral, and fungal infections that can make your lips feel itchy. The herpes simplex virus, candida overgrowth, and strep (group A Streptococcus) and staph (group A Staphylococcus) infections are all common causes of itchy and uncomfortable lips. In the case of an infection, your lips should feel normal again once the other infection symptoms go away. In some cases, antibiotics may be required to control the infection.
Other causes of itchy lips symptoms include:
- chronic hives (hives that occur frequently and last for more than six weeks)
- ingrown hairs from shaving (folliculitis)
- nutrient deficiencies
- Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (a rare condition that causes facial paralysis)
You can experience one without the other, but sometimes your lips might simply feel itchy because they’re dry. Lips that have become dry because of environmental factors can start to feel itchy. Skin that’s dried out has a weaker barrier. This can make your lips feel irritated and appear red or inflamed, or give you the urge to scratch.
Having dry lips usually isn’t an indicator or symptom of anything besides the environment around you, such as excessive heat or dry climate. But lips that are itchy can be a symptom of something more. Though the two symptoms are often linked, it’s important to be able to determine the difference.
Seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the following:
- a sudden rash that spreads from your lips across the rest of your face
- nonstop bleeding on your lips
- difficulty breathing
- lips that swell up rapidly
You should make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent symptoms of itchy lips, especially if your symptoms are accompanied by lips that are cracked or bleeding. Make sure to tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking and cosmetics you have used recently when you discuss your symptoms.
Your doctor may refer you to an allergist to rule out any allergic reactions to products or food. Blood tests can tell you if what you’re experiencing is allergic contact cheilitis. Your doctor may also do a culture or swab test to determine whether you have an infection or a candida overgrowth.
Treatment for itchy lips depends on the cause. Your doctor may prescribe medication if they suspect an infection. Oral antibiotics and antifungal creams may help your lips feel less itchy. A topical or oral antihistamine may clear up itching and hives if you are having an allergic reaction.
Lips that are itchy and dry may need a moisturizing treatment to seal the barrier between your lips and the air while your skin heals. Your doctor can recommend a hypo-allergenic, fragrance- and chemical-free product that you can use daily to protect your lips from dry conditions and severe weather.
Discuss any medications you’re taking with a doctor or pharmacist to see whether they can cause itchy lips as a side effect.
To keep itchy lips from recurring, there are a few things you can do.
Protect your lips
All year long, protect your lips with a medicated lip balm that contains a sunscreen. The Mayo Clinic recommends covering your mouth with a scarf when you go outside in freezing temperatures to protect your lips from cold air. Choose unflavored, unscented, hypoallergenic products that will shield your lips without exposing your skin to chemicals.
Change your habits
Do your best to avoid licking your lips. While it may seem like licking your lips hydrates the area, it actually causes your lips to become even drier than before. You may also want to consider changing your daily skin care and makeup regimen to limit your mouth’s exposure to ingredients that strip out moisture. And be mindful of the way you breathe, too; breathing through your mouth instead of your nose can dry out your lips.
Getting enough water is important to your health for about 100 reasons. Consider this reason No. 101. Drinking plenty of fluids, and using a humidifier in your home during the winter months, can restore proper hydration to your skin and keep your lips from getting chapped and itchy.
Having itchy lips is usually a benign symptom of having dry, itchy skin around your mouth. This symptom tends to resolve on its own, sometimes without any treatment. There are cases when itchy lips can indicate a deeper health condition, so pay attention to other symptoms that might occur along with itchy lips.