Angular Cheilitis: What Is It and What Are the Causes?
Angular cheilitis is a condition that affects one or both corners of the mouth.
The area may appear red and inflamed and will often be crusty and very itchy. It can be a painful and extremely irritating condition because of its location around the mouth.
Angular cheilitis can last anywhere from a few weeks to years. There are numerous causes, though all involve the presence of fungi and bacteria. However, there are usually a number of different factors that contribute to its onset.
Let’s discus and shed some detailed light on the condition. One major question: Is angular cheilitis contagious? Read on and we will answer that concern.
Exactly what is angular cheilitis?
Although it is referred to here as angular cheilitis, it is also known as perleche and angular stomatitis.
It is a condition that causes swollen patches in the area where your mouth and lips meet. It does not necessarily affect both corners of the mouth; it’s well documented that many people are afflicted only on one side.
When you have the condition, it will often appear very dry and crusty. It is particularly uncomfortable as it affects your day-to-day life. From eating your lunch to talking with your friends, it can be embarrassing and irritating at every turn.
It’s important, therefore, to be able to identify whether you have it and investigate the causes behind it, so you are able to get effective angular cheilitis treatment and prevent it from reoccurring.
Stages of Severity
When just a mild case of angular cheilitis, it could be mistaken for chapped lips.
Patients will experience tightness when stretching their mouth open, some dryness in the corner or corners of the mouth and slight discomfort. As the condition progresses there will be increased discomfort when eating and speaking.
The affected area will become red and swollen. When you reach a severe stage of the condition, there will be pain when eating and speaking. Severe blisters may appear, and the wounds in the corners of your mouth will be open and unable to heal on their own.
Problems associated with angular cheilitis
In addition to hindering your everyday life by making conversation painful, angular cheilitis can also cause other health problems and limit your quality of life. If it is particularly uncomfortable, it can make eating painful. This can create obvious problems. You may end up losing weight at an unhealthy rate. It may affect your consumption of the nutrients your body needs. This is troublesome, as common sense tells us when you’re unwell, your body needs these nutrients to fight off anything threatening your immune system.
While it is a condition that can seem a minor irritant, it is important to get it identified. It’s even more desireable to practice prevention—to ensure you don’t suffer any of the limitations which may occur.
Symptoms of angular cheilitis
Before we answer the question of how you contract angular cheilitis, let us first identify whether you are suffering from it. There are a number of angular cheilitis symptoms to identify. There are the obvious signs of discomfort and soreness such as blistering, cracked or scaly skin, and redness or bleeding.
If you feel pain in the corners of your mouth when you open and close it or while speaking, this too could be a symptom of angular cheilitis. It has also been reported that individuals have felt like they had burning around the lips and mouth. You can also have an unusual or bad taste in your mouth. All of the aforementioned angular cheilitis symptoms could be an indicator that you are suffering from this condition.
What causes angular cheilitis?
So how do you get angular cheilitis? There are a number of different causes. The very location of it makes it a warm and moist environment. The nature of environments like these means they are prone to fungal growth. Once the fungus grows, it then multiplies and bingo! All of a sudden, healthy, 35-year-old Joe has a fungal infection. This is, in fact, the most common cause: the saliva that gets stuck in the corners of your mouth when you moisturize your dry lips by licking them. It is most commonly a type of yeast called Candida, which is found in saliva that causes the fungal infection.
There’s a misconception that lack of vitamins may cause angular cheilitis. This is simply not true. Perhaps the misconception was born because it is accepted that fungi and bacteria cause angular cheilitis, and our immune system is usually the defense mechanism to fight off these invaders. When we haven’t consumed enough vitamins and minerals, our immune systems are less prepared and able to win a battle against the encroaching bacteria. A more accurate way to look at it would be that when our immune systems are weaker and we lick our lips excessively, or saliva gets trapped in dry cracks of skin at the corners of our mouths. That’s when we’re more likely to contract the condition.
So when looking at how you get angular cheilitis, it’s best to identify how bacteria and fungi are coming into contact with your mouth. Common causes could well be chewing on dirty pens or chewing your nails. The bacteria could also be picked up from touching your mouth and lips with dirty hands, feet, or any other body part.
In answering what causes angular cheilitis, it is sensible to look at the circumstances after contracting the condition. Did it flare up when you spent the evening on the sofa biting your nails after taking out the trash an hour beforehand? Or did slightly unhygienic-looking Gary, at work, lend you a pen that you chewed absentmindedly for the remainder of the day while trying to get that spreadsheet completed.
Angular cheilitis versus cold sore
A common problem that arises from sufferers of angular cheilitis is that they have misdiagnosed themselves, thinking they have the common cold sore. However, there are a number of different criteria to compare to determine whether you are suffering a cold sore or angular cheilitis.
People often get sores around the mouth and on the lips, but there is a clear distinction between angular cheilitis and a cold sore. Cold sore sufferers will experience discomfort and swollen patches often on and around the lips. Angular cheilitis sufferers, however, will only experience discomfort and swollen patches on the crease where the lips meet. Locating precisely where your discomfort lies can help you rule out cold sores.
Cold sores usually last less time than angular cheilitis. Cold sores often last around the two- to three-week mark. Angular cheilitis, on the other hand, usually lasts for a month or longer. If your pain or swollen area is improving after a week or two, you probably don’t have angular cheilitis.
Cold sores appear visibly different to the way in which angular cheilitis first manifests itself. Cold sores usually appear in a clump of small blisters that are particularly itchy. Angular cheilitis, on the other hand, will start as dry, cracking skin in the corners of the mouth. If left to deteriorate it will grow into very swollen red sores.
As both conditions get worse there becomes a more straightforward way to identify which condition you may have. With cold sores, eventually the patch of soreness and blisters will culminate into one large blister. This will scab over as it heals on its own accord. Angular cheilitis, however, develops differently. With angular cheilitis—left untreated—the cracked corners of your lips may well break into open wounds where blood will flow. This causes discomfort and pain. Angular cheilitis must be treated to prevent this. You can rely on cold sores to heal on their own, but angular cheilitis isn’t that forgiving.
Is angular cheilitis contagious?
Because of the condition’s symptoms and the fact that it is often misconceived to be cold sores, there is a misconception about how contagious angular cheilitis is. Angular cheilitis is absolutely not contagious. There is no evidence to support that the condition can be passed on from one individual to another. Since cold sores can be contagious, people have developed the misconception that angular cheilitis is as well, but that is not the case. That being said, a point worth noting is that angular cheilitis may spread from one side of the mouth to the other. Due to its location, it makes it very difficult for the bacteria to spread to other parts of the body.
What should be avoided while suffering from angular cheilitis?
Because of the bacterial nature of angular cheilitis, a number of things should be avoided while suffering from the condition. First and foremost you should avoid using lip balm. This may seem peculiar if you have dry and cracked lips, but you are more likely to irritate the skin further or, even worse, spread the bacteria around your mouth and lips, passing it to the other corner of your mouth. It is also sensible to keep your hands and face clean. It is the contact of bacteria with your mouth that you want to limit. If you’re a nail-biter, keep your nails clean, and if you’re a pen-chewer, don’t borrow unhygienic-Gary’s pen, from work. You want to keep the area around the mouth dry and uncontaminated as much as possible so that any treatments will be most effective. It is best to think of these measures as damage limitation. Your mouth will thank you for it when you get the all clear two weeks earlier than you might have had you continued to make the problem worse.
Are there natural remedies to treat angular cheilitis?
When it comes to angular cheilitis treatment, there are some home-remedy options that could be worth exploring, but medical treatment is advised. These are by no means the solution, and you should not expect a miraculous recovery. Having said that, there is no harm in trying. They may well serve to limit the damage and slow down the progression of the condition.
First, it’s been suggested that simply adding salt to warm water and holding your lips in the glass is good for the sore areas. It’s been said that it can speed up the healing time, because salt has properties that kill bacteria. This method could be effective in limiting the spread of the condition to the other corner of your mouth. It has also been said that the properties of salt water can limit the formation of scars and scabs.
One other alternative worth considering is mixing white wine vinegar with salt water and using a cotton swab to apply it to the affected area. This may also help kill bacteria. It could be used to first cleanse the area before applying an effective angular cheilitis treatment cream.
These methods are all natural remedies that can be tried at home. Though not a substitute for medical treatment, they may help. They certainly won’t do any harm, so on that basis they might be worth a try.