Cheilitis or cracked lips is a very common condition, which can make sufferers miserable. The skin just around the lips becomes red and inflamed, causing burning and discomfort. Movement of the lips, which as we all know, occurs almost constantly (think talking, eating and laughing) makes the pain worse.

What causes this problem? There are many culprits. Common ones include licking the lips ( usually seen in young kids), bacterial and fungal infections and  poorly fitting dentures. Why dentures? If the dentures are too small or for those who need dentures and don’t wear them, an overbite results, which in turn irritates the lips and the skin around the lips. Dry skin such as in those who have ezcema, chronic skin inflammation as in psoriasis are two other causes. And of course there are those rare causes, usually with unintelligible, long names such as Plummer Vinson syndrome.

How to treat cheilitis depends on the cause. If dentures are the problem you should see an dentist. If dry skin seems to be the issue, try Vaseline or A and D ointment. Antibacterial ointment such as Bacitracin usually works both to treat the dry skin and get rid of the bacteria. If there are some scales, a fungal infection might be present. Any antifungal ointment will usually do the job. The same antifungals which are used for athlete’s foot also work for fungal causes of cheilitis. If you have had herpes (cold blisters) before, Acyclovir ointment can be applied within a day or two of onset of blisters and will reduce pain and inflammation.

For those of you who live at high altitudes, use a generous portion of sun protection such as lip balm impregnated with sun blockers. During winter months, cold, dry air will make chapped lips worse. You should ideally reapply the Vaseline every time you go outside.

Sometimes, the condition will resist all treatment. You should then see your doctor, who might prescribe a steroid ointment in order to reduce the inflammation.


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  1. Houston

    What about hydration? Isn’t one of the main causes of dry chapped lips lack of proper hydration? Whenever I notice I am having a few days of chapped lips I also notice that I haven’t drank enough water, which always seems to solve the problem, at least on a long term basis.

    July 1st, 2013 8:15 am

  2. ERDoctor

    Dehydration can certainly cause dry lips, especially in combination with intense sunlight and wind. Adequate hydration is always a good idea and a little Vaseline to protect from sunlight and evaporation of tissue water is not a bad thing either.

    July 1st, 2013 6:00 pm

  3. names

    whats the name of the acyclovir ointment ,i used to use one of those its in a green and grey/silver tube but now i can’t remember its name that always work for me…please help me out

    December 4th, 2013 4:54 pm

  4. ERDoctor

    The name is Zovirax. However, you should know that the ointment is not as effective as the pill form. I hope that this helps.

    Rick Tietz, MD

    December 4th, 2013 6:50 pm

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