Fortunes have been made on lips! Now, your lips may not be your primary money-maker, keeping a lookout for its health is important. In this section, we will attempt to tackle some of the most common symptoms and signs you must look out for. In general, our mouth and face mirror the general health of our body. Our lips are no different. Lip lesions may act as an indicator for the presence of an underlying systemic disease.


If you feel that your lips have become thinner with age, you aren’t wrong. Lips tend to shorten in length and widen in width giving them a longer and thinner appearance. Since the upper lip decreases in height 3 dimensionally, the appearance of wrinkles on the top of the upper lip and on the corners of the mouth are classic signs of aging. There is also significant changes with respect to hydration of the lip and the blood flow to the lips, which may result in the change of the basic colour of the lips.


The most common infection of the lips is cold sores which are basically a cluster of tiny, painful blisters caused by the herpes simplex virus. After the first outbreak, our body manufactures antibodies and there are very rare cases of recurrence.

Cold sores have a typical progression:

  • Begins with a tingling, burning, or itching sensation

  • About 12 to 24 hours later, blisters form resulting in the area becoming red, swollen, and painful.

  • The blisters break open with fluid oozing out. This usually lasts 2 or 3 days.

  • A scab forms on the sore which might crack and bleed

  • The scab falls off.


Herpes zoster infections can cause similar sores and blisters on the lip. Another very common infection of the lip is a type of fungal infection called candidiasis. This usually happens in patients who are immunologically weak (diabetes, TB, HIV/AIDS) and their system cannot combat this opportunistic bacteria that is present normally in the oral cavity.


Inflammation of the lips is called cheilitis. It typically presents as red, painful, cracked and scaly lips and corners of the mouth. Typically this happens because of 4 reasons:

  • Deficiency of Vitamin B12 and iron in the diet.

  • A fungal infection (You might hear your doctor mention candida or staphylococcus).

  • Severely worn out teeth that decrease the space between upper and lower teeth.

  • Dentures that have an increased height

  • Some other unusual causes of inflamed lips maybe an allergic reaction to a drug or food. Sudden swelling of lips immediately after consumption of a particular drug (eg: penicillin) or food (eg: nuts/shellfish) may indicate an anaphylactic reaction and should be rushed to the ER immediately.


  • While there is a whole rainbow range of allergic and immunologic reactions that can represent in the mouth, we will focus on aphthous ulcers which is the most common manifestation. Recurrent aphthous ulcers usually manifest in childhood. They begin as a round, yellow elevated sore with a red halo that that breaks down into a punched-out ulcer covered with a loosely attached white, grey or yellow membrane. This tissue can be easily irritated with food and heals within 1-2 weeks.

  • Lesions due to trauma are fairly common in the oral cavity and they disappear soon after the irritating stimulus is removed. For example: A sharp tooth edge can cause a traumatic ulcer, whereas constant lip biting (particularly for the lower lip) can cause a mucocele that is essentially a fluid filled lesion that appears bluish-white and is harmless.


  • When dermatologists keep recommending sunscreens and lip balms, they have a darn good reason. Our lips are one of the most exposed part of our faces, which becomes susceptible to sun damage. This is particularly seen in people over the age of 45 in light skinned people who work long hours in the sun. More common on the lower lip, the skin of the lip can turn hard, dry and scaly. While this can be reversed at the early stages with adequate hydration, the trouble is when the changes progress to growths or your lip or your lip starts to develop redness, sores and ulcers. These may be indicative of precancerous conditions or skin cancer and have to be checked out immediately by a doctor. More so, if there is an associated tobacco habit.