A number of infections affect the lip, causing seemingly similar symptoms. It may be impossible to distinguish among the possible causes although some other associated symptoms can give a hint.
The most common and likely cause of a recurrent lip lesion is a Herpes Simplex Viral infection. Also called Herpes Labialis, cold sores, or fever blisters, this is an extremely common virus. In fact, almost 99% of all people in the world have been exposed to it, although it only expresses itself in a small percentage of that population.
The virus has the ability to remain latent in our bodies after an infection although whether the body has the ability to develop immunity to the virus is still debatable.
The disease is highly contagious and spreads easily. It spreads by touching the lesion directly or through contaminated instruments, as can happen if the instruments in a dental office are not sterilized, or through the fingers used to touch the lesions and then other people.
After the initial infection, outbreaks can be triggered by a compromised immune system due to another disease like a fever, HIV, and many other factors. Some cases have been documented where exposure to sunlight for long periods, everyday activities like shaving, hormonal changes as those seen in pregnancy and menstruation, physical injury and mental trauma have been associated with an outbreak of herpes due to the re-activation of the virus.
Patients who have recurrent lip lesions could also be dealing with eczema of the lips. This can present with blisters too although that is not always the case.
Patients suffering from this usually describe a feeling of dryness in the lips as well as peeling off the top layer of the lips. This peeling away of skin can leave reddish spots that can be mistaken for herpes lesions quite easily.
A fungal infection can also be the cause of lip lesions. This would again point to a compromised immune system as these fungal infections are usually opportunistic in nature. A dryness of the lips along with lesions on the lips, gums and the tongue can be seen in fungal infections.
The treatment for this condition is not too demanding and the correct diagnosis should be followed by quick resolution.
Most viral infections are self-limiting and only topical treatment is necessary. An over-the-counter pain medication along with an increase in the intake of fluids is commonly prescribed.
Eczema will respond to topical steroids. Systemic steroids may be necessary in certain cases although most lesions should heal with the help of topical application alone. The side effects associated with systemic steroid application means that this option is only utilized if the lesion does not respond to any other treatment.
Care should be taken to avoid unnecessary contact with people or sharing utensils if the lesions are believed to be contagious, as in the case of a viral infection.
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