Angular cheilitis is marked by inflammation of the corners of the mouth. Sensitive, sometimes painful sores appear when the corners get irritated. Without intervention, the corners of the mouth can become dry and lesions can appear. Angular cheilitis is caused by fungal infections, bacterial infections or a combination of the two. Unlike other conditions of the mouth like cold sores, angular cheilitis is not contagious. It can spread from one corner of the mouth to the other, but it cannot move on to other parts of the body.
If you are affected by angular cheilitis, you may find your lips are dry and uncomfortable. They may also feel like they are burning and you may have an unpleasant taste in your mouth. In cases of severe cheilitis, it may be hard for you to eat and you may not receive sufficient nutrients.
What causes angular cheilitis?
Health professionals ascertain the cause of angular cheilitis by swabbing the corners of the mouth and nose and testing for the presence of bacteria and fungi. Doctors also examine your mouth and pay close attention to cracks, redness, swelling and sores. They may also inquire about any regular practices you undertake that could affect your lips.
Angular cheilitis is usually caused by a specific fungal infection – candida, which is a type of yeast. You are more likely to develop angular cheilitis if the corners of your mouth are often moist. Reasons for this include wearing braces or ill-fitting dentures, licking your lips a lot and sucking your thumb. Sagging skin around your mouth, crooked teeth or a lack of vitamin B or iron may also be responsible.
In addition, certain medical conditions like anemia, diabetes, cancers of the blood, immune disorders and Down Syndrome can make angular cheilitis more likely. Diabetics tend to get fungal infections because candida feeds off glucose. Diabetes also weakens the immune system and this makes it harder to fight infections.
How does angular cheilitis progress?
There are four stages of angular cheilitis and they are outlined below.
Stage 1: Minor Angular Cheilitis
In this stage, the skin at the corners of your mouth will begin to flake slightly. You will experience tightness at the corner of your mouth and some discomfort when you open your mouth.
Stage 2: Mild Angular Cheilitis
You may start to see redness as the condition develops and your discomfort intensifies.
Stage 3: Severe Angular Cheilitis
Talking, eating or opening your mouth in any way will become painful. The lesions at the corner of your mouth become obvious and the usual topical treatments will not be effective.
Stage 4: Chronic Angular Cheilitis
If your condition is chronic, the lesions will heal then return. You may experience dryness, cracking and pain around the lips.
There are many ways to treat angular cheilitis, although the condition does not always require a specific intervention. If the body does not succeed in healing itself, you can alleviate the symptoms by improving oral hygiene, correcting any dental problems and using topical treatments. These include Neosporin, doctor-prescribed antibiotic ointments and anti-fungal creams. If you have a vitamin B deficiency, taking supplements may also help.
Angular cheilitis is not a particularly serious condition, even if it’s not pleasing to look at. If you notice cracks developing at the corners of your mouth, you should see your doctor for diagnosis but there is no need to be alarmed. The condition can usually be managed through behavioral changes and topical remedies. Remember that angular cheilitis not contagious so you can’t pass it on to anyone in your household. You should however make sure that any bacterial or fungal infections are properly treated.