Dry, chapped, irritated lips are more than just unsightly – they can be painful as well. Unfortunately, many of us are used to this feeling and see our kids suffer too. Chapped lips are more common in winter from two main reasons: cold air and wind, both of which act to dry out our mucous membranes, lips and skin.
In addition to dryness, there are common irritants that can make chapped lips worse. Saliva contains different enzymes that help us digest our food, but when we lick our lips, normally-helpful saliva becomes irritating. This is the vicious cycle we often are caught in: We naturally want to lick dry, chapped lips to help provide moisture, but this makes the chapping worse, leading to more licking.
While those fancy-scented or glittered lip balms can be fun for kids to use, ANY scented products can act as irritants as well. It’s also important for all of us to remember the harmful effects from sun exposure and UV light. Even though it’s winter, we can still get sunburns and dry, chapped lips if we don’t protect ourselves with sunscreen and SPF containing lip balms - especially when skiing, sledding or snowboarding on sunny days.
Here are some easy steps to help prevent your child’s lips from getting chapped this winter:
Apply a greasy, unscented lip balm or ointment to their lips every day or several times a day. Petroleum jelly works great but there are many options available.
Watch for repetitive licking. Gentle reminders, reward systems and behavioral substitutions (drink a sip of water every time you feel the need to lick) can help curb this habit.
Drink water! Frequent hydration can help soothe dry lips. How much water is enough? We should all drink enough every day so that our urine is clear and scent free.
Once lips become dry or chapped, then additional measures may need to be taken:
Increase the frequency of applying ointment or balms.
Try to avoid spicy or acidic foods which can irritate lips and cause pain.
Talk to your child’s doctor if lips are cracked or bleeding as infection can sometimes occur and additional treatment may be necessary.
Lip Licker Syndrome
I can spot this from a mile away but parents don’t always put two and two together. Some children develop an extreme behavioral loop with constant licking of their lips. This can advance and cause rash on the skin around their mouth as well, which looks red, dry and flaky. The pattern is classic and unmistakable once it’s recognized. Treatment requires breaking the licking cycle through behavioral approaches, aggressively treating the lips and skin care with moisturizer and hydrocortisone.
Now that you know what to watch for, hopefully you can prevent miserable chapped lips this winter.
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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