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Angular cheilitis is the medical term for a bacterial or fungal infection on the corner of the mouth that causes soreness, inflammation and cracked skin. Also called perleche, the condition affects people of all ages. Home remedies and over-the-counter or physician-prescribed medications help relieve the symptoms.

Causes of Angular Cheilitis

When saliva builds up in the loose skin on the mouth corners, it creates conditions that are ideal for certain microorganisms. Bacteria and fungi, which are always present but usually harmless, thrive in the moisture and warmth and invade the skin. Though many people believe that vitamin deficiencies cause the condition, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatologylists a range of more likely causes, including:

  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Misaligned bite
  • Weight loss (leading to sagging skin)
  • Thumb-sucking
  • Lip smacking
  • Antibiotic use
  • Isotretinoin therapy

Patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, suppressed immune system or diabetes mellitus are also at an increased risk of developing the condition.

Symptoms of Angular Cheilitis

Candida yeast and Staphylococcus bacteria are two microorganisms known to cause angular cheilitis, but no matter what causes the infection, symptoms are always similar: the mouth corners turn red and scaly and the skin surface breaks down and cracks, exposing the delicate and sensitive tissue below. The patient finds it painful to open the mouth to eat, drink, yawn or speak. Every time the wounds break open more saliva seeps in, which prolongs the problem. According to the organizationAngular Cheilitis Help (ACH), without treatment the condition can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to resolve and sometimes progresses into a serious, severe form.

Treatments for Angular Cheilitis

According to the ACH, the most effective treatment for the infection is exposure to strong sunlight and chlorinated or salt water. Bacteria and fungi can’t survive well in bright sunlight, and chlorine and salt destroy them.

Antibiotics can treat cases caused by bacterial infection and antifungal creams can treat fungal infections. Some infections are both bacterial and fungal, so sometimes a single treatment may not work. Clotrimazole can help with a yeast or fungal infection. Patients can also try home remedies, like keeping the affected area as dry as possible and boosting their immune system by taking B-complex vitamins and eating a healthy diet.

Although cracked skin at the mouth corners is rarely a serious condition, it’s an irritation that can spoil eating, drinking and speaking. If you’re worried about angular cheilitis, speak to your physician or dentist.