Cracks in the lips are most commonly associated with chapped lips, medically referred to as cheilitis simplex. Cheilitis is the term that denotes inflammation of the lips. Cracking, fissuring, reddening, peeling, and pain of the lips can occur when inflammation is present. Inflammation of the lips can be caused by many different conditions; in some cases, the condition can be chronic (persists over time). Wind, cold, and sun exposure are common environmental causes of cracked lips. Drug reactions, skin diseases, and other conditions can also cause inflammation of the lips. Angular cheilitis is the term used for inflammation (often with cracking) at the corners of the mouth; this condition is common in the elderly and is also called angular stomatitis. Allergic reactions are another common cause of inflammation of the lips.
Other causes of chapped lips (cheilitis)
- Angular Cheilitis
- Bacterial Infection
- Candida Infection
- Chronic Lip Licking or Biting
- Drug Reactions
- Fungal Infection
- Hypervitaminosis A
- Pemphigus Vulgaris
- Wind Exposure
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
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Causes of Chapped Lips (Cheilitis)
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Cold Sores (Nongenital Herpes Simplex Infections)
Herpes simplex infections are common and when they appear around the mouth and lips, people often refer to them as "cold sores" and "fever blisters." Canker sores are different than cold sores. Air droplets can spread the virus, as can direct contact with the fluid from the blisters. Cold sore treatment include over-the-counter medication, as well as prescription medications.
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory disease, primarily involving the small and large intestine, but which can affect other parts of the digestive system as well. Abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss are common symptoms.
Dehydration is the excessive loss of body water. There are a number of causes of dehydration including heat exposure, prolonged vigorous exercise, and some diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms of dehydration include headache, lightheadedness, constipation, and bad breath. Treatment for dehydration is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
Eczema refers to skin inflammation. There are many different types of eczema that produce symptoms and signs that range from oozing blisters to crusty plaques of skin. Treatment varies depending upon the type of eczema the person has.
Impetigo is a contagious skin infection caused by staph and strep bacteria. There are two types of impetigo: nonbullous and bullous. Symptoms of nonbullous impetigo include small blisters on the nose, face, arms, or legs and possibly swollen glands. Bullous impetigo signs include blisters in various areas, particularly in the buttocks area. Treatment involves gentle cleansing, removing the crusts of popped blisters, and the application of prescription-strength mupirocin antibiotic ointment.
Lichen planus is a common skin disease that features small, itchy pink or purple spots on the arms or legs. the abnormal areas on the skin in lichen planus are typically flat-topped (hence the term planus), itchy, and frequently have a polygonal or angular shape.
Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE)
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a condition characterized by chronic inflammation of body tissues caused by autoimmune disease. Lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and nervous system. When only the skin is involved, the condition is called discoid lupus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease involving the abnormal production of extra antibodies that attack the glands and connective tissue. Sjögren's syndrome with gland inflammation (resulting dry eyes and mouth, etc.) that is not associated with another connective tissue disease is referred to as primary Sjögren's syndrome. Sjögren's syndrome that is also associated with a connective tissue disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or scleroderma, is referred to as secondary Sjögren's syndrome. Though there is no cure for Sjögren's syndrome, the symptoms may be treated by using lubricating eye ointments, drinking plenty of water, humidifying the air, and using glycerin swabs. Medications are also available to treat dry eye and dry mouth.
Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)
Sunburn is caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. UV rays can also damage the eyes. Repeated overexposure to UV rays also increases the risk for scarring, freckles, wrinkles, and dry skin. Symptoms of sunburn include painful, red, tender, and hot skin.The skin may blister, swell, and peel. Sun poisoning (severe sunburn) include nausea, fever, chills, rapid pulse, dizziness and more. Home remedies can help relieve sunburn pain, blisters, and peeling. Severe sunburns may need medical treatment. Sun protection and sunscreen for an person's skin type is recommended to decrease the chance of a severe sunburn and sun poisoning.