Lip Numbness: Symptoms and Causes
Try our free symptom checker
Get a thorough self-assessment before your visit to the doctor.
If you are having an unusual sensation and tingling your lips, you may be experiencing lip numbness. Numb lips are most commonly caused by contact allergies from certain foods or chemicals, or cold weather. Other causes for tingling lips include cosmetic injections to the lips, drinking alcohol, smoking, or lip nerve damage. Read below for more causes and treatment options for numb lips.
Numb or tingling lips explained
Numbness of the lip may seem like an odd or harmless symptom to have, and in some cases, it is. It may simply be due to a mild allergy or being out in cold weather and thus easily treatable.
But sometimes this unusual lip numbness symptom can be a sign of a serious illness that needs immediate treatment. As always, the body has a way of getting attention when it needs care, and the loss of feeling in one of the most important sensory parts of the face will certainly cause you to be on higher alert.
Common characteristics of lip numbness
If you're experiencing lip numbness, it can likely be described by:
- An uncomfortable absence of sensation in the lips: This often happens only in the lower lip, but both lips may be affected.
- Swelling, cracking, bleeding, inflammation, and redness
- A stinging, tingling, pins-and-needles sensation
- Rash, bumps, or blisters in and around the mouth
Are lip numbness symptoms serious?
The severity of your lip numbness is ultimately dependent on the cause.
- Not serious: If both lips are affected, the cause is most likely allergies and can be readily treated.
- Moderately serious: Frostbite and hypothermia can certainly affect the lips. Though not a sign of illness, these conditions must be treated right away to prevent permanent tissue damage.
- Serious: Numbness that you feel only in the bottom lip tends to be a sign of more serious illness and should be examined by a medical provider as soon as possible.
What causes numb lips?
Allergies, as well as anything that strains or damages the nervous system, are among the most common causes of lip numbness.
- Systemic allergies: Such as to foods or medications, meaning things you have eaten/swallowed
- Contact allergies: This can occur from foods, chemicals, or makeup, meaning things that have directly touched the lips.
Environmental causes may be related to certain exposures or events.
- Exposure to cold weather: This can lead to frostbite, which is the actual freezing of tissue.
- Hyperventilation: This may occur due to excessive crying or other emotional upset. This causes a shortage of CO2 in the blood and leads to numbness in the lips, feet, and hands, and sometimes muscle twitching.
- Anesthesia: The injections used for dental work or facial surgery will cause only mild tingling and numbness that should fade within a few hours.
- Other exposures: Some topical numbing medications (creams or gels) for mouth pain may also numb the lips. Various other numbing agents or exposures that have numbing effects include Botox injections, lip fillers, piercings or studs in the lips, excessive alcohol use, smoking or using chewing tobacco, and nutritional deficiencies, especially in B vitamins.
Peripheral neuropathy specifically affects the connections between the brain and the peripheries — the hands, arms, feet, legs, and face. The signals are disrupted due to nerve damage from various illnesses or chemicals which causes tingling, numbness, and pain. Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by:
- Metabolic illness: This refers to dysfunction in the organs that produce hormones and regulate body processes.
- Viral illness: This can often cause neuropathy as a side effect.
- Bacterial illnesses of certain kinds
- Autoimmune disease: This means the body's own protective system begins to turn against itself. In addition to lip numbness, symptoms can include facial nerve damage, weakness, numbness, and eventually paralysis.
- Over-constriction of the blood vessels in the extremities: The face can be affected, and you may experience numbness, tingling, and a feeling of cold in the lips. The lips will appear very pale or even blue-white.
- Fatigue: Fatigue may be accompanied by numb lips, dizziness, and vision problems.
- Addiction to high quantities of drugs or alcohol
- Certain medications: Especially in heavy doses
Rare and unusual lip numbness causes
Tumors and other forms of cancer can cause damage and disruption in the nervous system. Tumors found in the lips, tongue, throat, jawbone, and lungs may produce the symptom of lower lip numbness.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)
When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergy, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.
Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness
Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Low calcium level
Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A cold sore is a skin lesion on the lips caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Cold sores are extremely common. In fact, most adults are infected with HSV, usually transmitted in childhood by normal close contact with parents, siblings or friends.
While the infection can be entirely unnoti..
Spider bite requiring medical attention
Some spiders can be very dangerous. Even for the less dangerous ones, some people have serious reactions. If the symptoms of these reactions go untreated, it can be life-threatening.
Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), vomiting, fever, dizziness
Symptoms that always occur with spider bite requiring medical attention: spider bite
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Hypoparathyroidism is a condition in the parathyroid glands do not produce enough parathyroid hormone. This leads to low levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause both short-term and long-term symptoms. Causes of hypoparathyroidism include surgery or radiation to the neck, aut..
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by longstanding or poorly controlled diabetes mellitus (DM). Other risk factors for developing diabetic neuropathy include obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease, and abnormal lipid levels.
Diabetic neuropathy can present as a number ..
Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.
The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.
Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.
Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.
Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.
Top Symptoms: distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
Urgency: Primary care doctor
How to relieve lip numbness and tingling
When lip numbness is an emergency
Seek immediate lip numbness treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you have sudden lip numbness symptoms with any of the following:
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Severe swelling of the face, lips, and tongue
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weakness and tingling in the arms, hands, feet, or legs
- Muscle spasms or seizures
- Lumps, bumps, or unexplained sores and bleeding in the mouth
- Hoarse voice
- Chronic sore throat
When to see a doctor for lip numbness
You should see your doctor if you experience:
- Ongoing lip numbness with mild swelling of the face, lips, and tongue
- Discussion of current medications: This is to see if any of them may be causing the lip numbness.
At-home treatments for lip numbness
Lip numbness remedies that you can try at home include:
- Apply petroleum jelly to lips before going out in the cold
- Avoid carbonated drinks
- Improve the diet: Especially by taking B complex vitamins.
Questions your doctor may ask about lip numbness
- Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
- Do you have a rash?
- Relax your face. Have someone else tap the corner of your mouth. Does your lip or face twitch with each tap? (This is known as Chvostek's sign.)
- Where in your mouth are you numb?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Janeen has worked over eight years as a full-time medical transcriptionist, specializing in pain management and gynecologic oncology. She later began transcribing reports for hospital emergency rooms and acute care admissions. This background gave her a strong medical vocabulary as well as a heart for making medical information accessible to the average person, leading her to work as a medical writer. She began as a pre-veterinary medicine major at Texas State University.