Lip Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What are the signs of lip problems?

Lip symptoms include lip dryness, cracking, pain, numbness, sores and swelling. If lip pain is present, it may be described as sharp, dull, stabbing, burning or throbbing.

There are many causes of lip symptoms; they range from mild to serious. The duration and course of lip symptoms vary widely, depending on the cause. Symptoms caused by allergic reaction or injury often have a sudden onset, while symptoms due to an underlying disease may develop over time and recur.

You may experience lip symptoms as a result of injury, such as biting your lips or burning them with hot food. In other cases, your lip symptoms may be related to a chronic medical condition, such as anemia or infection with herpes simplex virus. Even a common infection can cause lip symptoms. Diseases or conditions that affect the nerves and muscles, including nerve damage or neuropathy, can be associated with symptoms that involve the lips. Lip symptoms may also be the result of cold and dry weather, infection, nutritional deficiencies, or medication side effects.

A rare but potentially life-threatening cause of lip symptoms is cancer. Most lip symptoms, however, are not a sign of a serious condition.

Lip symptoms may uncommonly occur as the result of a serious or life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience confusion, lethargy, loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or swelling of the mouth, lips or throat.

Seek prompt medical care if your lip symptoms are persistent or cause you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with lip symptoms?

Lip symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the lips or mouth may also involve other body systems.

Mouth symptoms that may occur along with lip symptoms

Lip symptoms may accompany other symptoms affecting the mouth including:

  • Bleeding or bruising

  • Burning feeling
     
  • Cracked lips or mouth corners
     
  • Development of small bumps or blisters
     
  • Dry mouth
     
  • Hoarse voice
     
  • Itchy feeling
     
  • Pins-and-needles (prickling) sensation
     
  • Redness, warmth or swelling
     
  • Tenderness
     
  • Tingling or other unusual sensations

Neuromuscular symptoms that may occur along with lip symptoms

Conditions that affect the nerves or muscles can produce symptoms that accompany lip symptoms. Symptoms that may occur in other parts of the body include:

Other symptoms that may occur along with lip symptoms

Lip symptoms may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, lip symptoms may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have lip symptoms along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions
     
  • Difficulty swallowing
     
  • Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
     
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
     
  • Respiratory or breathing problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, choking
     
  • Sudden swelling of face, lips or tongue

What causes lip symptoms?

There are many causes of lip symptoms, which range from mild to serious. The type and severity of the lip symptoms will depend largely on the underlying cause. Lip symptoms may result from exposure to a harsh environment, neuropathy, injury, and a number of conditions, diseases and disorders.

Environmental causes of lip symptoms

Lip symptoms may be caused by environmental conditions including:

  • Cold weather

  • Dry weather
     
  • Sun damage
     
  • Wind exposure

Neuropathic causes of lip symptoms

Lip symptoms such as numbness may also result from neuropathy, a disorder of or damage to the nerves. In the case of lip symptoms, the nerves cannot carry a signal between the lips and the brain, causing numbness and sometimes a loss of control. Causes of lip symptoms due to neuropathy include:

Traumatic causes of lip symptoms

Lip symptoms may also be due to injuries resulting from:

  • Biting your lips

  • Braces, poorly fitting dentures, or other physical irritants
     
  • Breathing through the mouth
     
  • Burns
     
  • Cuts
     
  • Head injury
     
  • Hot food and beverages
     
  • Repeated licking of the lips

Other causes of lip symptoms

Other types of chronic diseases and conditions can lead to lip symptoms. These disorders include:

    Serious or life-threatening causes of lip symptoms

    In some cases, lip symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

    • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)

    • Cancer
       
    • Dehydration (loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which can be life threatening when severe and untreated)
       
    • Hyperventilation
       
    • Medication side effects
       
    • Severe infection
       
    • Toxic ingestion, such as eating poisonous plants, mushrooms or chemicals

    Questions for diagnosing the cause of lip symptoms

    To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your lip symptoms including:

    • Are you currently following a special diet or restricting specific food groups

    • How long have you had your lip symptoms?

    • What other symptoms are you experiencing?

    • When do your symptoms occur?

    • What have you done to relieve your symptoms?

    • What medications are you taking?

    • Do you have any chronic medical conditions?

    What are the potential complications of lip symptoms?

    The potential complications of lip symptoms depend on their cause. Because lip symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

    • Brain damage

    • Impaired balance and coordination
       
    • Nerve problems that cause pain, numbness or tingling
       
    • Organ failure or dysfunction
       
    • Severe discomfort or pain
       
    • Skin ulcerations and infections
       
    • Spread of cancer
       
    • Spread of infection
       
    • Vitamin deficiencies

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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 1
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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. Mouth sores. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003059.htm
    2. Mouth problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/mouth-problems.html