A person may experience itchy lips due to cheilitis or chapped lips, herpes simplex virus, and oral thrush. Treatment can depend on the underlying cause.

Dry, sore, or itchy lips are a common occurrence that a person can relieve with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments at home.

Itchy lips usually have a link with hot or cold weather or appear as a symptom of seasonal or contact allergies.

Less often, a person may experience itchy lips due to an underlying health condition. In these circumstances, a person may require treatment from a doctor.

In this article, we examine the causes of itchy lips and look at treatment and prevention methods.

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Itchy lips have various possible causes, including:

Cheilitis, or chapped lips

Cheilitis is the acute or chronic inflammation of the lips, and it has many types.

Cheilitis simplex

Cheilitis simplex, which people are likely to refer to as severely chapped lips, may occur for many reasons, including:

  • cold weather
  • sun exposure
  • a reduction in air humidity
  • habitual licking of the lips

Common symptoms of chapped lips include dryness, cracking, and itchiness.

A person can treat chapped lips by minimizing their exposure to extreme weather and using lip balms or ointments.

Allergic contact cheilitis

Allergic contact cheilitis is allergic contact dermatitis that affects the lips. It is similar to other allergic reactions of the skin.

When a substance comes in contact with the lips, it may cause swelling, redness, and itchiness. Substances that may cause allergic contact cheilitis may include:

  • lip cosmetics
  • toothpaste
  • mouthwash
  • sunscreen
  • medications

Some people may refer to this form of the condition as “lipstick cheilitis” because the ingredients in lipsticks can act as irritants.

A person can typically treat allergic contact cheilitis with topical corticosteroids or emollients.

Drug-related cheilitis

Drug-related cheilitis occurs when lesions emerge around the lips due to medications.

Researchers suggest that retinoids and other medications, including topical antibiotics, local anesthetics, and lip care products, are most likely to cause drug-related cheilitis.

Some people may have an allergic reaction to the medication or retinoid, causing dry, cracked lips and an itching sensation.

Switching medications and trying a different lip moisturizer may help relieve drug-related cheilitis.

Infectious cheilitis

Infectious cheilitis is inflammation of the lips that occurs due to an infection. There are several potential causes of infectious cheilitis, including:

  • infections
  • HIV or other conditions that suppress the immune system
  • nutritional deficiencies

Treatment involves treating the underlying condition. However, a doctor may also recommend alleviating the symptoms using ointments and creams, such as:

  • topical corticosteroids
  • antibiotics
  • antimycotics, or antifungal drugs
  • antiseptics

Herpes simplex virus

Herpes simplex is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) resulting from a virus. It causes painful, red or discolored blisters on the outside of the lips and may also affect a person’s genitals.

Herpes may initially cause severe flu-like symptoms along with painful sores on the lips. Subsequent episodes may be less severe and will primarily involve cold sores.

There is no cure for herpes. Instead, treatment focuses on preventing flare-ups and reducing symptoms when they occur. Oral antiviral medications may help prevent symptoms from returning.

Oral thrush

Thrush is an overgrowth of Candida. Candida is a fungus that lives on the skin and around the mucous membranes but does not usually cause any health issues.

If an imbalance occurs, the fungus can grow out of control and cause itchy, painful white patches in the mouth and cracking around the corners of the lips.

A doctor may recommend an antifungal medication to treat oral thrush.

Often, a person can treat their lips with OTC lip ointments or balms. If the condition worsens, a person can ask their doctor for advice on additional ways to treat dry, itchy lips.

A person should speak with their doctor if they develop a rash on their lips or suspect that a medication may be causing their lips to itch.

If a person is experiencing any other symptoms alongside itchy lips, they should tell their doctor, as an underlying condition may be responsible.

If a person presents with itchy lips, the doctor will likely examine them and ask questions about any other symptoms. The doctor may take samples of any sores if they are not sure of the cause.

A person may need additional tests if the doctor suspects that an underlying condition is causing the person’s itchy lips. Sometimes, blood tests may help them make a diagnosis.

A person can help prevent some cases of dry, itchy lips. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, some steps that a person can take include:

  • keeping the mouth clean
  • avoiding exposure to the sun, wind, and extreme temperatures
  • avoiding licking the lips
  • using moisturizing lip balms or ointments
  • treating underlying conditions to help prevent flare-ups
  • avoiding medications or other substances that are causing the itchiness

If a person has an underlying condition that causes itchy lips, a doctor can advise them on how to keep the condition under control and prevent the itchy lips from becoming worse.

The most common causes of itchy lips include:

  • allergens
  • irritants
  • a reaction to a medication
  • exposure to extreme weather conditions

A person can often self-treat their lips with lip balms or ointments. People should talk with their doctor if their lips do not improve or they suspect that an underlying condition is causing this symptom.