Having chapped lips, especially during the hot season, didn’t bother Betty Uwineza as she imagines it was just a consequence of the dryness in the atmosphere. But her lips only got drier and scalier with every passing day.
Unpleasant as it was for her, Uwineza wondered why this problem was not going away since she had always perceived it as a temporary ordeal. With the situation worsening, her only option was to seek medical redress.
According to Dr Daniel Gahungu, a general practitioner at Polyclinic de l’Etoile in Kigali, when one has chapped or cracked lips, one may experience a number of issues including dryness, swelling, scales, cracks and bleeding on and around their lips.
Gahungu explains that lips don’t contain oil glands like other parts of the skin and that for this reason they are more susceptible to dryness and becoming chapped (cracked) when they lack enough moisture.
He says lack of humidity in the air is also known to cause chapped lips, adding that frequent exposure to the sun can worsen this condition.
Dr Jean-Chrysostome Nyirinkwaya, the chief executive officer, La Croix du Sud Hospital in Kigali says another common cause of chapped lips is habitual licking and biting of lips.
He also says saliva from the tongue can further strip the lips of moisture, causing more dryness.
Dr Nyirinkwaya clarifies that lack of self care can also lead to cracked lips and may make the problem worse when it is weather-induced.
“Usually when one does not take enough care of themselves, they may always be seen with dry lips which could even be worse when exposed to hot weather and dry winds,” he says.
Risk factors for chapped lips
Dr Gahungu says people of all ages and gender can get chapped lips, particularly if they have dry skin.
Taking certain medications can also increase one’s risk of developing chapped lips.
“Medications and supplements for example for vitamin, Lithium (commonly used to treat bipolar disorder) and chemotherapy drugs can lead to chapped lips,” he says.
Dr Gahungu adds that allergies to some medicines like aspirin and penicillin could be revealed by dry and cracked lips.
“People who suffer from dehydration, malnutrition, smokers and those who drink alcohol are also more likely to have chapped lips,” he says, advising that once these are associated with your chapped lips, one needs immediate medical attention.
Prevention and treatment
Dr Nyirinkwaya says the first step to avoid chapped lips is to make sure that they have enough moisture. He adds that this can be accomplished by drinking more water each day.
Using a humidifier in the home for those with the ability to, can be another way to increase the humidity around the house to avoid chapped lips.
He says looking out for oneself, for example avoiding cold weather conditions or wrapping your mouth with a scarf whenever it is very cold, may help avoid this problem too.
Since exposure to the sun can cause chapped lips, especially as one ages, Nyirinkwaya advises that applying a lip balm before heading outdoors helps to moisturise the lips, while a sunscreen minimises further drying effects.
When to seek medical treatment
Gahungu says whereas chapped lips are a very common condition, some people may develop a more severe form of chapped lips called cheilitis.
“Cheilitis is often to blame for severely chapped lips. This is a condition marked by a cracked skin at corners of the mouth, as well as several cracks on one’s lips,” says Gahungu.
“A person with this condition may experience dark pink or reddish-coloured lips, have a lumpy texture, develop ulcers and have white plaques on the surface,” he adds.
Cheilitis is often attributed to infections and inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. In this case, anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed so as to induce melanine production.
Gahungu adds that dental trauma and excessive saliva production may also turn a regular case of chapped lips into cheilitis, as bacteria can enter through the cracks and cause an infection.
Nyirinkwaya also says that at times wounds may develop exposing one to some infections that may result into a cancer if this issue is not taken care of as soon as possible.
“Usually there are some gels and glycerine one may use to feel better,” he adds.