Lip Swelling

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What is lip swelling?

Lip swelling is the enlargement or distention of one or both lips due to fluid buildup or inflammation within the lip tissue. Lip swelling may also be referred to as lip edema.

A variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases and conditions can lead to lip swelling. Swelling can result from infections, inflammation, trauma or malignancy (cancer).

Depending on the cause, lip swelling can be brief and disappear quickly, such as when you have sunburned and chapped lips. Lip swelling that develops over time and occurs along with additional symptoms may be a sign of an infection or extensive inflammation.

Because lip swelling and swelling in general may be a sign of a life-threatening condition, such as an anaphylactic reaction, you should seek emergency medical care (call 911) if you experience lip swelling accompanied by difficulty breathing, hives or rash, intense distress, fever, and redness or warmth.

What other symptoms might occur with lip swelling?

Lip swelling may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, lip swelling due to infection may be associated with fever, redness, and warmth around the lips.

Symptoms that may occur along with lip swelling

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, lip swelling can indicate a life-threatening condition, such as an anaphylactic reaction, that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms:

  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails

  • Feeling like your throat is tight

  • Fever with red and tender areas

  • General edema (swelling)

  • Hives or rash

  • Intense distress

  • Itching in the throat or mouth

  • Lip swelling after trauma to the lips or face

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, and choking

  • Sudden or severe swelling

  • Swollen tongue

What causes lip swelling?

Lip swelling can be caused by infection, allergies, or trauma of the lip tissues. Lip swelling can be due to relatively mild conditions, such as sunburn, or serious or life-threatening conditions, such as an anaphylactic reaction, which should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Infectious causes of lip swelling

Lip swelling can be due to a variety of infections including:

  • Bacterial, viral or fungal infection
  • Chelitis (fungal infection which begins in the corners of the mouth)
  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)
  • Herpes simplex virus infection

Allergic causes of lip swelling

Lip swelling is commonly due to mild to serious allergic reactions including:

Traumatic causes of lip swelling

Lip swelling can arise from irritating substances, injury or trauma, such as:

  • Contact with an irritant (contact dermatitis)
  • Dental appliances
  • Hot and spicy food
  • Laceration or blunt trauma of the lip
  • Oral surgery
  • Severe sunburn
  • Surgery on the lip

Other causes of lip swelling

Lip swelling can be due to various other conditions including:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of lip swelling

To help diagnose the underlying cause of lip swelling, your licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Questions asked during your examination generally include:

  • When did the lip swelling start?
  • How long has the lip swelling lasted? Does it come and go?
  • Did you eat any foods or have contact with any unusual substances before the swelling started (for example, seafood, shellfish, latex, or an insect bite)?
  • Have you had any recent infections or injuries to the mouth or lips?
  • Do you have any pain or other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of lip swelling?

Complications associated with swollen lips can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because lip swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to contact your health care provider when you experience persistent swelling, discoloration, or other unusual symptoms related to your lips. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you can help reduce any potential complications including:

  • Deformity
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory arrest from anaphylactic shock
  • Skin or other tissue removal
  • Spread of infection to other parts of the body, including the blood
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Facial Swelling. FamilyDoctor.org from the American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/symptom/facial-swelling/
  2. Facial swelling. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.     https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003105.htm