How to Diagnose and Treat Staph on the Lips

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus or staph) is a bacterium that lives on the skin. Staph causes millions of skin and soft tissue infections yearly, including lip infections.

The bacteria enter through a cut or wound around the lips and infect the surrounding tissue. Staph can also travel to other organs via the bloodstream. Although most staph infections are treatable, they can be deadly if not handled quickly.

This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment for staph infections on the lip.

Lower half of a woman's face with a lip infection

V_Sot / Getty Images

Staph Infection Symptoms

Staph infections can cause mild to severe side effects. Common symptoms of a lip staph infection include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Drainage
  • Ulceration
  • Fever/shaking chills

If the staph infection travels to the bladder, it can cause pain, frequency, and urgency of urination. If the bacteria infect the joints or bones, it can cause pain. Coughing and shortness of breath could indicate staph pneumonia.

Tell your healthcare provider immediately if you have a lip staph infection and experience any of the above symptoms, as treatment needs to be started quickly.

What Does a Staph Infection on the Lips Look Like?

A staph infection of the lip can start as a small, red bump. Once the body's immune system recognizes the bacteria as foreign, it sends white blood cells to the area to fight the infection. This immune response causes the bump to become inflamed, tender, and filled with pus. Eventually, the bump may rupture, causing the fluid to drain out and the area to crust over. If left untreated, staph may travel to the bloodstream resulting in a blood infection called bacteremia.

Staph Infection Causes

Any opening in the skin increases the susceptibility to a staph infection. As the bacteria invade the tissue, it colonizes and spreads. Common skin conditions that can result in a lip staph infection include:

Other risk factors for staph infections include being African American, having a weakened immune system, being diabetic, and having previous staph infections.

How Common Are Staph Infections?

S. aureus is found in approximately 30% of the human population and is responsible for 14 million outpatient visits yearly.


Staph infections are diagnosed based on what body system could be infected. The following are ways to diagnose a staph infection:

A wound culture is likely to be performed for a lip staph infection. Your healthcare provider will take a special swab and collect drainage or tissue from the site of infection. The swab is then sent to a laboratory for testing. It can take up to 72 hours for a result.

Complications of Staph on the Lips

Most staph infections are typically easy to treat with a straightforward recovery. However, nearly 20,000 people died from staph bacteremia in 2017.

Complications of a lip staph infection occur when the bacteria infects the blood and other organs. Here are complications that can occur with a lip staph infection:

  • Cellulitis or abscess of the lip
  • Joint infection
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Pneumonia (lung infection)
  • Cardiovascular infection (endocarditis)
  • Pyelonephritis (kidney infection)
  • Bacteremia (blood infection)

Additionally, staph can become resistant to antibiotics—this is called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).


Treatment depends on the severity of the infection. Uncomplicated staph infections may improve over time by simply keeping the area clean and dry. There are also medicated creams and gels that can be applied topically to the infected area. More complicated infections, however, may require oral or intravenous antibiotics in addition to surgical debridement (removal of tissue) of the wound.

How Staph Spreads

Staph is contagious and can spread from person to person by coming into contact with a wound. In addition, using an infected person's washcloth, razor, or other personal items can spread the bacteria.


Despite best efforts, staph infections can recur, especially if it's MRSA. Here are ways to help prevent a lip staph infection:

  • Keep lips moisturized to reduce cracking and skin breakdown
  • Keep fingernails trimmed and clean
  • Regularly wash face and hands
  • Change wash clothes/towels daily
  • Don't share cups, utensils, lip gloss, razors, toothbrushes, or other personal items
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

If you have a MRSA-positive lip staph infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe a topical cream, medicated facial wash, or prophylactic antibiotics.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you have a lip staph infection that isn't improving or you develop fever, shaking chills, or worsening pain.


Staph is a bacteria that causes skin and soft tissue infections in millions of people yearly. When staph enters the skin around the lips through a cut or crack, it colonizes and spreads. The body's immune system attacks the bacteria causing inflammation, redness, tenderness, and warmth at the infected site.

A staph infection of the lip may resolve by keeping the area clean and dry. However, more severe cases may require an oral or intravenous antibiotic. You may be able to prevent a lip staph infection by routinely washing your face and hands and not sharing personal hygiene items. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have signs of a lip staph infection and develop a fever or shaking chills.

A Word From Verywell

Complications from staph infections are more likely to occur in certain populations. For example, if you are over the age of 70 and are a male, your risk for bacteremia (blood infection) increases. Also, people who are HIV+ or are receiving hemodialysis have higher rates of acquiring bacteremia. Additionally, Black people in the United States are twice as likely to develop MRSA than White people.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider at the first sign of a staph infection—especially if you are part of these at-risk populations—so you start treatment immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does staph look like when it first starts?

    A staph infection often starts as a small, red bump. If untreated, the bump can become inflamed, red, and tender. It can also fill with pus and leak.

  • Will a staph infection go away on its own?

    Uncomplicated staph infections may resolve independently by keeping the area clean and dry. However, if this skin is red and irritated or accompanied by a fever or pus, it's important to see a healthcare provider immediately.

  • Are staph infections contagious?

    Staph can spread through contact with the wound or by using personal items such as razors, toothbrushes, and clothes of those infected with the bacteria.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.