You would not usually associate smiling with a painful experience, but that can be the case if you have angular cheilitis. This inflammation starts off as a patch of dry, red or cracked skin in one or both corners of the mouth. The sensitive skin can even split if a patient opens their mouth too wide, which can make eating, drinking and talking uncomfortable. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, from a yeast infection or vitamin deficiency to simple chapped lips.
Angular cheilitis (also called perlèche, angular stomatitis or cheilosis) often begins when the corners of the mouth stay moist for a long period of time. When the saliva dissipates, dryness and irritation move in. When a person repeatedly licks their lips to alleviate the dryness, the mouth area can dry out even more and crack, allowing germs to enter and cause an infection. The moist environment can also allow for fungal growth, resulting in a candida or yeast infection that itches and burns. Mouth patches may also appear scaly, white in colour, swollen or blistered.
This condition can affect patients of any age, from babies to the elderly. People with weakened immune systems from a condition such as diabetes or HIV are especially vulnerable. Other risk factors, include:
- Excess saliva pooling in the corners of the mouth
- Thumb sucking
- Ill-fitting dentures
- Certain genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome and Sjögren's syndrome
- Nutritional issues, especially a lack of B vitamins or an iron deficiency.
Depending on the cause, your doctor or dentist may prescribe dietary changes, vitamin supplements or an antibiotic to treat the condition, notes Dermatology Advisor. Don't just apply lip balm and ignore it. Your health care professional will be able to tell whether your issues are caused by a fungus, germs or a more dangerous underlying condition, such as an immune disorder.
Angular cheilitis caused by candida is often treated with a steroid or antibiotic cream, the same way as other fungal infections. If you regularly have non-food objects in or near your mouth (such as dentures, cigarettes or braces), good oral hygiene can help keep your lips and mouth clean and free from infection. Try to keep your lower face dry and wear lip balm with SPF protection in especially cold, dry or sunny weather.
It is best to visit a doctor or dentist as soon as possible to get this type of infection treated properly. Early treatment can help clear up an infection or symptoms in as little as a few days, so don't waste time waiting to smile again!