Angular Cheilitis or Oral Herpes? Learn to Distinguish the Two
The problem with angular cheilitis, other than being annoying painful and itchy, is that it resembles other mouth ailments, which can lead to incorrect self-diagnosis and treatment. One common mouth disorder often confused with it is oral herpes or cold sore. It’s very important to distinguish between the two so proper treatment can be applied.
What is angular cheilitis?
Angular cheilitis is a medical condition of the skin marked by the formation of cracks on the mouth corners. These openings make normal movement of the lips difficult and uncomfortable. The problem generally starts with an accumulation of saliva on the corners of the mouth. Saliva doesn’t only dry up the skin, leading to open cracks and splits, it also contains bacteria and fungi that can cause infection. When infection occurs, that’s when angular cheilitis is said to have occurred. As it gets worse, the cracks develop into deeper crusts that bleed whenever the mouth is opened.
What is oral herpes?
Herpes labialis is the medical term for oral herpes or cold sore. It refers to the infection of the mouth or gums that cause the appearance of small and painful blisters. These sores, which appear not only on the corners of the mouth but all around the nearby areas, can be extremely distressing. Sometimes, they burst and develop into scabs. The condition usually heals on its own after a few weeks.
What are the similarities and differences between the two?
Based on the definitions provided, angular cheilitis and oral herpes share three things in common:
- Both conditions are painful and uncomfortable
- Both appear on the mouth area
- Both are marked by redness and inflammation
- Causes – Angular cheilitis can be triggered by numerous factors including nutritional deficiency, dental problems, weakened immune system, and fungal or bacterial infections. It can be caused by one factor or a combination of several. But the bottom line is, the condition is due to the drying, cracking, and infection of the mouth corners.
Oral herpes, on the other hand, is caused by only one thing and that’s the virus called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), thus the name.
- Signs and symptoms – For angular cheilitis, signs and symptoms include skin lesions in one or both corners of the mouth, dry flaky skin, extremely dry and chapped lips, painful bumps or cracks on the mouth corners, bleeding when the mouth is opened, stinging sensation on the affected area, white coating on the tongue, and pain when smiling, laughing or eating. As for cold sore, tell-tale signs are blisters around the mouth, sore throat, fever, tingling around the lips, headaches, and muscle pains.
- Spread of virus – It’s also important to note that while oral herpes is highly contagious, angular cheilitis is not. Herpes virus is in fact very easy to spread. You can catch it by having intimate contact with an infected person, or coming into contact with anything that he/she has used like towels, utensils, razor and so on. Angular cheilitis, meanwhile, can’t be spread from one person to another. It can’t even spread to other body parts. The infection is contained to the mouth corners.
- Treatment – While both conditions can be treated effectively, once you’re inflicted with the herpes virus, it stays with you for lifetime. That’s not the case with angular cheilitis. You can get rid of it for good and once you do, you won’t have to worry about it coming back.
Treatment methods for angular cheilitis include application of an anti-fungal or antibacterial ointment on the affected area. It’s also important to get to the root cause of the problem and resolve that for long-term treatment of angular cheilitis. For example, if the condition is caused by poor-fitting dentures, one should go to the dentist and have his/her dentures fixed.
When it comes to oral herpes, the doctor will prescribe antiviral medications to kill the virus, as well as pain killers to alleviate the pain and other symptoms. Common medicines prescribed for cold sore include Acyclovir, Famciclovir and Valacyclovir. There are also antiviral skin creams that can be applied on the mouth sores.
Learning to distinguish between these two conditions that are often confused with each other can help ensure proper and suitable treatment.