Symptoms A-Z

3 Reasons Your Lips Are Swollen & Treatments for Swollen Lips

Lip swelling can be cause for concern since it often implicates an allergic reaction. When in contact with certain foods or chemical, this can cause sudden lip swelling. In addition, taking certain medication like ACE inhibitors, an injury to the face, or angioedema can cause puffy lips. Read below for more causes and how to treat swollen lips.

An image depicting a person suffering from swollen lips symptoms

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 5 Possible Swollen Lips Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Swollen, Puffy Lips Symptoms Explained

Perhaps you had a bite of an allergy-triggering food or took a hit to the mouth at soccer practice, but now your lips are swelling. Lip swelling can have many causes, and while in some instances it occurs in isolation, it can also be accompanied by pain, redness, itchiness, or even blisters [2, 11]. ### Some symptoms associated with lip swelling include [2, 11]: ###

Sometimes these swollen lip symptoms are mild and temporary or can be resolved with over the counter medication [2, 3]. However, in the case of a severe allergic reaction or persistent swollen lip symptoms, it is important to seek prompt medical attention, as some causes of lip swelling can be very serious.

What Causes Swollen Lips?

Lip swelling occurs when the blood vessels in the lip area become more leaky than usual, causing fluid to accumulate in places that it typically would not [11]. Normally the walls of blood vessels form a tight barrier that keeps fluid from escaping; however, in cases of irritation or trauma to the lips, these vessels let more fluid through the walls into the neighboring tissues, thus causing swelling. The causes of lip swelling can be divided into the following categories:

Inflammatory causes:

  • Allergic reaction: Allergic reactions happen due to an abnormal immune reaction following exposure to a benign substance, such as a food, animal, or fabric [1, 2]. Allergic reactions can happen as quickly as seconds following exposure, but they can also take minutes to hours to occur.
  • Autoimmune: There is a vast assortment of autoimmune conditions that can cause lip swelling [3]. In individuals with certain autoimmune conditions, such as Crohn's Disease or lupus, mouth and lip sores and swelling can occur during active disease flares. There are also a number of other rare autoimmune conditions, such as Miescher's cheilitis and plasma cell cheilitis, that are characterized by lip swelling caused by the body's immune system attacking glands located on the lips [2].

Systemic disease causes:

  • Hereditary: There are certain rare inherited conditions, such as hereditary angioedema, that can lead to intermittent swelling of the lips [4]. In such cases, individuals are born lacking certain proteins produced by the body that are important for maintaining the integrity of blood vessel walls, causing them to be predisposed to swelling of the lips and mouth.
  • Tumors: A variety of different cancerous and non-cancerous growths can lead to lip swelling. Certain growths are benign and occur simply due to blockage of a salivary gland and will likely resolve on their own [5]. On the other hand, malignant cancers of the mouth, such as squamous cell carcinoma, can cause painful irritation and swelling of the lips and require treatment by a physician [6].
  • Infection: Several viral, bacterial, and yeast infections can all lead to irritation and swelling of the lips. Those who are most vulnerable to such infections are those who wear dentures or orthodontic devices, or individuals who are immunocompromised due to HIV infection or chemotherapy.

Environmental causes:

  • Repetitive lip irritation: A number of different irritants, such as cold air, high winds, or even chronic lip-licking, can lead to lip inflammation and swelling [2, 3]. Additionally, many cosmetic and dermatologic products, such as lip balm, sunscreen, and makeup, can cause lip irritation.
  • Medications: A number of different common prescription medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and calcium channel blockers may cause mild lip redness and swelling as a side-effect of treatment [3]. In some patients, an adverse reaction to a medication can cause very serious inflammation of the mouth and lips accompanied by sores and bleeding.
  • Trauma: Trauma, such as from an athletic injury, is one of the most common causes for lip swelling, as the skin and blood vessels in the area are especially prone to bruising and inflammation following impact [2].

5 Possible Swollen Lips Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen lips. 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.

Rarity: Common

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

Swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor

ACE Inhibitors are drugs used to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure and diabetes. In rare cases, these drugs can cause an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, swollen face, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, swollen tongue

Symptoms that never occur with swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor: hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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Angioedema

Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, swollen face, hand swelling

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition most commonly caused by an allergic reaction. In anaphylaxis, two types of immune cells — mast cells and basophils — are suddenly activated and release numerous inflammatory substances that cause blood vessels to dilate and become leaky, which can lead to low ...

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How and When to Treat Sudden Lip Swelling

When deciding whether to make a doctor's appointment, go to the emergency room, or just try some small changes at home, consider the following:

You should head to the emergency room if:

  • You are wheezing or having any difficulty swallowing or breathing due to lip swelling
  • Your lip is bleeding uncontrollably
  • You experienced trauma to the mouth, jaw, or head [2, 3].

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You experience mild lip swelling in response to exposure to certain foods or products
  • You have sores in your mouth or on your lips that have persisted >10 days
  • You have any wounds in your mouth or on your lips that are producing fluid or pus
  • You have persistent itchiness, scaling, redness, or swelling of your lips
  • You notice any new spots of either pale or dark discoloration on your lips or near your gums
  • You think a change in your medications may be causing your lip swelling symptoms [2, 3]

Sometimes you can try a few things at home before seeking medical attention for swollen lips:

  • Do your best to identify the food or product that is triggering lip swelling symptoms. Try eliminating one food at a time or switching out hygiene products to identify the possible culprit.
  • In cases of mild lip swelling associated with an allergy, try taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine to control the reaction. If you have been prescribed an Epi-Pen and have been trained to use it following an allergic reaction, then use it right away. It is also important that you call 911 if you are experiencing a severe reaction.
  • Applying a cold pack to the source of pain for no more than 15 minutes at a time, three times a day, can reduce inflammation and swelling. Additionally, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, can also help to lessen pain from swollen lip symptoms [2, 3].

FAQs About Swollen Lips

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen lips.

Can dry lips cause swelling?

Dry lips do not cause lip swelling [9]. A more common cause of lip swelling is allergic swelling [2, 3]. Often, this may be caused by contact with an irritant. In children, this may follow chronic lip licking or a change in oral hygiene products like toothpaste, lip balms, and mouthwashes. It may also follow exposure of lips to intense sun or a nutrient deficiency.

Do allergies cause swollen lips?

Yes, allergies commonly cause swollen lips [2, 3]. The medical term for this is eczematous cheilitis [8]. Common allergies include saliva, certain foods, cold dry air, toothpaste, mouthwash, mango, cinnamon, citrus, makeup products, sunscreens, and lip balms.

Why are my lips swollen and itchy?

It is likely that you are experiencing an allergic reaction to a food or a substance that has been applied to your lips [2]. Common substances that cause allergic reactions include mango, cinnamon, and citrus as well as toothpaste, mouthwash, and lip balms. If you are experiencing throat swelling or difficulty breathing, seek medical evaluation urgently.

Why do my lips burn?

The most common cause of lip irritation is the effect of climate on lips [7]. Lips can dry out in cold air and crack, causing fissures or bleeding, and this can cause burning when the lips are exposed to further cold air or when the lips are moved to speak or eat. Rare syndromes including burning mouth syndrome [9] and a facial neuropathy [10] may also contribute to lip burning. If you develop further symptoms including numbness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty moving, seek medical care.

Why is my lip swollen when I wake up?

It is common for lips to swell upon waking if you have consumed large amounts of salt the prior night. This causes the body to retain fluid, which may also cause swelling in the eyelids and the lips. Additionally, this may also be caused by disorders with chemicals that decrease swelling, particularly one disorder in which a compound called C-esterase is absent [4].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Lips

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a rash?
  • What part of your mouth is swollen?
  • Does your throat feel itchy or irritated?
  • Are you allergic to anything?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Swollen Lips Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen lips have also experienced:

  • 6% Lip Rash
  • 5% Burning Pain On The Outside Of The Lips
  • 4% Swollen Face

People who have experienced swollen lips were most often matched with:

  • 37% Swelling Caused By Use Of An Ace Inhibitor
  • 37% Angioedema
  • 25% Allergic Reaction (Not Life-Threatening)

People who have experienced swollen lips had symptoms persist for:

  • 41% Less than a day
  • 38% Less than a week
  • 10% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Swollen Lips Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your swollen lips

References

  1. Delves PJ. Angioedema. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated January 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  2. Angioedema. NHS. Updated August 24, 2016. NHS Link.
  3. Henochowicz SI. Angioedema. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published February 27, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  4. Hereditary Angioedema. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Genetics Home Reference. Published October 23, 2018. GHR Link.
  5. Salivary Gland Disorders. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published January 2015. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  6. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin Cancer Foundation Link.
  7. Dry Skin. American Academy of Dermatology. AAD Link.
  8. Saving Face: Dermatologists Helping Patients Identify Source of Facial Allergic Contact Dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology. Published August 1, 2013. AAD Link.
  9. Treister N, Woo SB, AAOM Web Writing Group. Burning Mouth Syndrome. The American Academy of Oral Medicine. Updated January 22, 2015. AAOM Link.
  10. Sissons C. Why Are My Lips Tingling? Medical News Today. Updated November 27, 2017. MNT Link.
  11. Seymour T. Why Are My Lips Swollen? Medical News Today. Updated February 28, 2018. MNT Link.

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.