Cracked Lips

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Introduction

What are cracked lips?

Cracked lips are a symptom in which the lips are dry, peeling or chapped. Breaks may appear on the surface, and the lips may become painful and may bleed.

In most cases, cracked lips are not caused by a serious condition and do not pose any health risks. Common causes of cracked lips include dry or cold weather, sunburn, wind exposure, licking your lips, and breathing through your mouth. In some cases, mild conditions such as the common cold, dehydration, and nutritional deficiencies may also result in cracked lips.

Often, you may be able to correct your cracked lips with healthy habits such as regularly applying lip balm, using sunscreen when spending time outdoors, and drinking plenty of water.

Cracked lips are rarely associated with a medical emergency. However, cracked lips may be a sign of dehydration. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can result in shock or coma and may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of severe dehydration, such as confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, cold skin, or reduced urine production.

Seek prompt medical care if your cracked lips are persistent or cause you concern.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with cracked lips?

Other symptoms cracked lips may accompany will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the lips may also involve other body systems.

Mouth symptoms that may occur along with cracked lips

Cracked lips may accompany other symptoms affecting the mouth including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with cracked lips

Cracked lips may accompany symptoms related to other body systems. These may include:

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • General ill feeling

  • Headache

  • Rash

  • Stuffy nose or nasal condition

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, cracked lips may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have cracked lips along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment

  • Fainting or change in level of consciousness or lethargy

  • Reduced urine production

Causes

What causes cracked lips?

Cracked lips are usually a mild symptom that occurs as a result of environmental factors, personal habits such as licking your lips, or conditions such as mild dehydration and the common cold. Cracked lips are rarely a sign of a severe condition.

Environmental causes of cracked lips

Cracked lips may be caused by environmental conditions including:

  • Cold weather

  • Dry weather

  • Indoor heating

  • Sun damage

  • Wind exposure

Other common causes of cracked lips

Cracked lips may also be caused by:

  • Allergic reaction to lip products such as lipstick or lip balm

  • Breathing through the mouth

  • Canker sores

  • Cold sores (herpes simplex virus infections)

  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)

  • Malnutrition

  • Mild dehydration

  • Repeated licking of the lips

  • Vitamin deficiency

Serious or life-threatening causes of cracked lips

Rarely, cracked lips may be a symptom of severe dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes). Severe dehydration is a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of cracked lips

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your cracked lips including:

  • How long have you experienced cracked lips?

  • Do your cracked lips worsen when you use certain lip products, such as lipstick?

  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with your cracked lips?

  • Are your cracked lips becoming worse or more frequent?

What are the potential complications of cracked lips?

Cracked lips are generally harmless and do not produce long-term complications. Damage to the lips from irritation may predispose you to the development of secondary bacterial or fungal infections. Rarely, cracked lips may be a sign of a serious condition such as dehydration. In this case, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications.

Although these complications are rare with cracked lips, left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to serious consequences including:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 25
  1. Mouth problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/mouth-problems.html.
  2. Chapped lips. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002036.htm.
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