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
Lip swelling may accompany other symptoms including:
Change in lip color
Fever and chills
Skin sores or pus-filled bumps
Watery, itchy eyes
Runny nose (congestion)
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
Itching in the throat or mouth
Lip swelling after trauma to the lips or face
Sudden or severe swelling
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:
- Drug allergy, such as a penicillin or codeine allergy
- Food allergy
- Glossitis (regardless of cause)
- Hay fever or allergic reaction from animal dander, dust, cosmetics or pollen
- Insect bite allergy, such as from a bee sting
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:
- Blood transfusion reaction
- Fluid retention, such as can occur during pregnancy
- Hereditary angioedema (serious genetic disorder that causes periodic swelling of the throat and other areas)
- Lip cancer (skin cancer)
- Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (rare neurological disorder)
- Organ failure, such as heart, liver or kidney failure
- Preeclampsia (serious condition of pregnancy marked by swelling, high blood pressure, and protein in the urine)
- Severe malnutrition
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?
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:
- 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