Angular Cheilitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Risk Factors
  3. Causes
  4. Diagnosis
  5. Other Causes
  6. Treatment
  7. Prevention
  8. References

Angular cheilitis is a condition of swollen red patches in the corners of your mouth. Patches develop where your lips meet and spread at an angle.

Also known as angular stomatitis or perleche, angular cheilitis can occur on one side of your mouth, or both.

Angular cheilitis is a common condition of the skin and can lead to cracked, painful sores. Some people mistake this condition for cold sores. But cold sores are caused by a herpes virus and are contagious. Angular cheilitis is not contagious.

You can treat angular cheilitis by changing your diet, taking medication or using special skin ointments.

Symptoms of Angular Cheilitis

Symptoms of angular cheilitis include:

  • Redness

  • Bleeding

  • Painful fissures/cracks

  • Crusting

  • Oozing

  • Erosions

  • Blisters

  • Soggy, lighter-colored skin or Maceration

  • Swelling

It can develop into widespread candidiasis or impetigo on other skin surfaces.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Angular Cheilitis?

Angular cheilitis usually affects the very young or the very old. Older persons who wear dentures, or experience sagging skin at the corner of their mouth will often suffer from dry mouth corners. Young children who suck on a pacifier, their thumbs, or who drool can also irritate the mouth area where angular cheilitis develops.

Others who are at risk for developing angular cheilitis are persons with certain health conditions, such as:

  • Diabetes

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Down syndrome

  • HIV or other immune system disorders

  • Low levels of Vitamin B, proteins, or iron

  • Smoking

  • Stress

  • Skin wrinkles caused by age

  • Those who experience rapid weight loss

Causes of Angular Cheilitis

Angular cheilitis develops when saliva collects at the corner of your mouth and dries out, causing your skin to dry also. If the area continues to dry out, the skin will crack and allow bacteria or fungi to grow inside of the cracked area.

Bacteria and fungi can cause inflammation and infection. Reasons or conditions that set the stage for dry lip areas include:

  • Wearing dentures that do not fit your mouth

  • Yeast of fungal infections in the mouth, such as thrush

  • Skin allergies

  • Sucking on a pacifier or your thumb

  • Wearing a face mask

  • Eczema or atopic dermatitis

  • Drooling in your sleep

  • Misaligned teeth

Diagnosis of Angular Cheilitis

Primary healthcare providers and dermatologists typically diagnose angular cheilitis. To reach a conclusive diagnosis, doctors:

  • Perform a physical examination

  • Check your symptoms

  • Review your medical history

They likely will take a mouth swab to test for a virus, such as herpes or other fungal infections. They may draw blood to determine if you suffer from nutritional deficiencies or other illnesses.

What Else Can Cause Cracked Lip Corners?

Besides having angular cheilitis, you can develop cracked lip corners because of personal habits, environmental factors or a mild condition, such as the common cold or dehydration.

Typically, this condition is not serious and does not affect your overall health, but it can be painful or uncomfortable. Bleeding sometimes accompanies the cracked and dry skin.

Environmental Causes include:

  • Dry weather

  • Cold weather

  • Wind exposure

  • Indoor heating

  • Sun damage

Other Causes of Cracked Lip Corners include:

  • Low red blood cell count

  • Yeast infection

  • Viral respiratory infection

  • Frequent wetting of the lips

  • Vitamin B deficiency

  • Allergic reaction to lip balms or lipstick

  • Breathing through the mouth

  • Cold sores

  • Mild dehydration

Cracked mouth corners can be a sign of severe dehydration, although this is rare. Severe dehydration is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention.

Treatment for Angular Cheilitis

Treating angular cheilitis depends on the causes. Among the most common medical treatments are:

Any hardware in your mouth, such as dentures, should fit properly. If you have misaligned teeth or bite, it needs to be corrected with headgear, retainers, or braces by a dental professional.

Topical or oral antibiotics can treat bacterial infections.

Some foods, such as those rich in proteins, vitamin B, and iron can clear up issues caused by a lack of nutrients or a poor diet.

Topical steroids or antifungal creams can relieve swelling and pain from a cracked mouth corner. It may also be recommended you use petroleum jelly or lip balm to keep your mouth moisturized and protected.

Prevention of Angular Cheilitis

Most of the causes for angular cheilitis are unavoidable, but you are able to reduce your risk or help prevent its occurrence by:

  • Avoiding contact with skin irritants and allergens

  • Eating healthy and drinking a lot of water

  • Keep your lips moisturized

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products

  • Do not lick or wet your lips

  • Do not use expired cosmetics

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.