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What Causes Swollen Lips?

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Updated June 28, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Causes Swollen Lips?
Answer:

Several conditions can cause swollen lips. While some of these conditions are 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, the swelling is accompanied by difficulty breathing or if you suspect any of the life threatening conditions covered below.

The following conditions have been known to cause swelling of the lips:

Angioedema

Angioedema can be a serious, even life threatening cause of lip swelling. It is caused by an allergic reaction to something you've eaten, an insect bite, pollen allergies or a medication you've taken. Angioedema can cause swelling of the lips, face, and tongue which usually occurs rapidly. It sometimes causes redness or bumps (hives). You may have difficulty talking. It can also cause swelling of the airway and difficulty breathing which is why this condition is life threatening. You can tell that someone is having difficulty breathing if their voice becomes hoarse, they are unable to talk at all, they begin to wheeze or cough or their lips or face become bluish in color. If you suspect that you or someone is experiencing this you should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Angioedema can be treated with steroids such as epinephrine. People who have experienced this kind of allergic reaction in the past sometimes carry epinephrine with them 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, for example 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.

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. Using a lip balm that contains petroleum jelly or beeswax can help treat and prevent chapped lips. Try not to lick your lips or pick 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.

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:

Sources:

Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. A persistently swollen lip. Accessed: June 26, 2013 from http://www.ccjm.org/content/76/1/12.full

Medscape. Mucocele and Ranula. Accessed: June 27, 2013 from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1076717-overview

NHS Choices. Sore or Dry Lips. Accessed: June 27, 2013 from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dry-lips/Pages/Introduction.aspx

University of Maryland Medical Center. Angioedema. Accessed: June 27, 2013 from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/angioedema

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