What Causes Swollen Lips?

5 Common Causes of Lip Swelling

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Several conditions can cause swollen lips. While some of these conditions can be serious or even life-threatening, others may resolve on their own. You should see your doctor any time that the swelling cannot be explained, does not improve after a few days, is accompanied by difficulty breathing, or if you suspect any of the life-threatening conditions covered below.

Allergies

Angioedema is caused by an allergic reaction to something you've eaten, an insect bite, pollen allergies, or a medication you've taken.

It causes a swelling of the lips, face, and tongue, which usually occurs rapidly. It can also sometimes be accompanied by redness or bumps (hives). Due to the swelling, you may have difficulty talking. Angioedema can also cause swelling of the airway and difficulty breathing, which may be life-threatening. You can tell that someone is in a life-threatening situation if they have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • voice becomes hoarse or they are unable talk
  • begin to wheeze or cough
  • lips or face become bluish in color

If you suspect you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Angioedema can be treated with steroids like epinephrine. If you have had this type of reaction, you should carry epinephrine (Epi-Pen) with you in case of an emergency.

Injuries

Trauma to the face or lips—for example, burning your lips on hot food or being hit in the mouth—can cause swelling.

In minor cases, the swelling can usually be controlled using a cold pack and will resolve in a few days. If you have a severe injury, such as one that is causing you a lot of pain, bleeds excessively, is accompanied by other worrisome symptoms, or if you cannot control swelling, you should see a doctor.

When seeking medical care, the sooner the better. If there is too much swelling present, risk of infection is high, or the injury occurred more than 24 hours earlier, your physician will likely not be able to do sutures. In this case, your physician will clean your wound and schedule a repair in a couple of days.

If stitches are used to close the injury to your lips, you should follow these guidelines for preventing complications:

  1. Eat a soft diet for two to three days to avoid damaging stitches.
  2. Avoid spices in your food until wound is healed to avoid pain or increased injury to wound.
  3. Rinse with water following every meal to help prevent debris from remaining at the injured site.
  4. Do not drink with a straw, as the sucking motion creates negative pressure that can damage the repair.

Chapped or Sunburned Lips

Very chapped lips may become swollen. This is generally caused by licking your lips too much, being outside in windy, sunny, or arid weather, or just living in a dry climate. To prevent this from occurring, you can try any or all of the following:

  • using a lip balm that contains petroleum jelly or beeswax
  • lip products with sunscreen
  • wearing hats
  • not to licking your lips
  • not picking at any dry, flaky skin

    Infections

    Some infections may cause lip swelling, including those caused by fungal infections, viruses, or bacteria. Sometimes chapped, cracked lips allow germs to infect this area. This can cause redness, soreness, and some swelling. In the case of an infection, treatment will depend on the germ causing it and should be managed by your physician.

    Mucoceles

    A mucocele usually appears more like a bump on the lip rather than generalized swelling, but they can vary in appearance. Mucoceles are cysts that occur from biting the lip or trauma to the lip that results in damage to a salivary gland. Fluid then backs up or pools under the skin in that area and forms a bump.

    Mucoceles are not considered a serious health problem, but some may be bothersome and they may have to be surgically removed or lanced and drained.

    Other less common causes of swollen lips include:

    • Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome
    • cheilitis granulomatosa
    • Crohn's disease

    Sources:

    Hollander, J.E. & Weinberger Conlon, L.N. Assessment and Management of lip lacerations. UptoDate. 2015.

    Medscape. Mucocele and Ranula. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1076717-overview

    Angioedema. University of Maryland Medical Center. 2015. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/angioedema

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