Merck Manual

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Lip Sores, Lip Inflammation, and Other Changes

(Cold Sores; Fever Blisters)


Bernard J. Hennessy

, DDS, Texas A&M University, College of Dentistry

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Topic Resources

The lips may undergo changes in size, color, and surface. Some of these changes may indicate a medical problem. Other changes are harmless. With aging, the lips may grow thinner.

Spots on the lips may occur. Multiple, small, scattered brownish-black spots may be a sign of a hereditary disease called Peutz-Jeghers syndrome A polyp is a projecting growth of tissue from the wall of a hollow space, such as the intestines. Some polyps are caused by hereditary conditions. Bleeding from the rectum is the most common... read more , in which polyps form in the stomach and intestines. Rarely, smokers develop noncancerous brown spots on the lips near where the cigarette is held. Freckles and irregularly shaped brownish areas (melanotic macules) are common around the lips and may last for many years. These marks are not cause for concern.

Kawasaki disease Kawasaki Disease Kawasaki disease causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown but may be associated with an infection. Children typically have fever, rash... read more Kawasaki Disease , a disease of unknown cause that usually occurs in infants and children 8 years old or younger, can cause dryness and cracking of the lips and reddening of the lining of the mouth.

Other common lip changes include


With inflammation of the lips (called cheilitis), the lips may become painful, irritated, red, cracked, and scaly.

Most commonly, irritation and inflammation involve the lips and skinfolds at the corners of the mouth (called angular cheilitis), typically if the person

  • Has dentures that do not separate the jaws adequately

  • Has worn down the teeth excessively, resulting in less space between the upper and lower teeth

  • Has a Candida or a Staphylococcus aureus infection

  • Has a deficiency of vitamin B2 or iron in the diet

Other forms of cheilitis usually affect the outside surface of the lips and the lips' border with the skin. Causes include infection, sun damage Lips and Sun Damage Sun damage (see also Overview of Sunlight and Skin Damage) may make the lips, especially the lower lip, hard and dry. People over age 45 and people with light skin who have had extensive exposure... read more , drugs or irritants, allergy, or an underlying condition. Treatment includes petroleum jelly applied to the lips and elimination or treatment of underlying conditions.

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Gum recession is the loss of tissue at the gum line resulting in exposure of the root of the tooth. Which of the following is NOT a typical cause of gum recession?
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