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  5. Swollen Lips: 7 Causes, 5 Home Remedies, 3 Medical Treatments & Precautions

Have your lips ever swollen up instantly after eating a particular food? Or, do you wake up to swollen lips on some mornings without knowing what to do about it? We know how that feels!

A bee-stung, swelled-up lips can be very painful and inconvenient. This is why we have decided to let you know exactly what can cause it and how you should be dealing with this sudden development on the lips. Let’s begin.

Causes Of Lip Swelling

Your lips can swell due to various reasons. If the swelling is due to an injury or a minor cause, it is an acute lip swelling. When a more serious condition causes your lips to swell, it is known as chronic lip swelling. Depending on the cause, the swelling can last from a few hours to a couple of days.

Here are some of the causes behind both types of lip swelling:

1. Acute Lip Swelling

A. Injuries

If you’ve accidentally placed your lips on a very hot steel glass or cup, had a fall and bruised your lips, or worse, been hit on or near your mouth, your lips are likely to swell up. These usually subside in some time with the use of a cold pack or some anti-bruising or anti-swelling cream.

Note

However, if the injury is due to a serious accident or a sharp object like a knife cut, it is better to see a doctor. Also, if the bleeding doesn’t stop, other parts of your face get swollen and if the cut is large, visit your doctor immediately.

B. Sunburn Or Chapping

In winter, your lips get very dry because the skin of the lips is very thin. If the lips have chapped and you pick on the lip skin that is peeling, they could get swollen. Your lips could also swell up if you lick your chapped lips to moisturise them, or if you are outdoors when the weather is too hot, dry, windy or cold.

C. Mucoceles

A cyst that comes from frequently biting the lips, or from an injury is known as a mucocele [1]. It causes damage to the salivary gland [2], where the liquid in the gland gets collected under the skin causing a bump. This gives the lips a swollen appearance.

D. Allergies

Several food items cause an allergic reaction, leading to swollen lips. This condition is also called oral allergy syndrome. It is triggered by certain foods and normally, the swelling reduces on its own in some time.

Food items that people are allergic to and which can swell up your lips include peanuts, gluten (in wheat), tamarind, eggs, prawns, shellfish, soybean and peanuts. Other nuts like almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or hazelnuts can also cause lips to swell up.

If you are allergic to spices, herbs and pulses, they too can cause lips to swell up. Also, some kinds of peppers and spices like cumin, fennel (saunf), star anise, coriander, celery and parsley may cause lip swelling.

However, another allergic reaction that causes swollen lips is called Angioedema [3]. This can be triggered by a food item, allergy to pollen in the air or an insect bite like a bee sting or a wasp bite. Here, the face, tongue and lips swell up, making it difficult to speak.

Word of caution:

If the windpipe swells up due to Angioedema, it can be dangerous and immediate doctor intervention must be seeked. If your lips swell up and turn blue; or if your skin and fingers also start turning blue along with difficulty in breathing, this condition is known as cyanosis [4]. See a doctor immediately.

E. Medications

There are several medicines that cause lips to swell up as an allergic reaction. The presence of any chemical you may be allergic to, a few antibiotics and penicillin [5] are known to make the lips swell. Side effects of certain medications may also cause lips to swell up.

2. Chronic Lip Swelling

A. Infections

An infection -- bacterial, viral or fungal -- can cause lips to swell up. If the skin of the lips gets very dry and cracked, it can get infected. This, in turn, may lead to pain, redness and even swelling. If you have any inflammatory skin condition, or an infection [cheilitis] [6], they can also cause lips to swell up.

An infection, commonly known as a cold sore (also known as the herpes simplex virus infection) [7], affects people and is usually symptomised as a blister on the lips, which can cause swelling.

Tumours, a deficiency of Vitamin B2 and even cosmetic surgery can cause lips to swell up. If lip implants or injections are not administered the right way, they can be a cause.

B. Inflammatory Conditions

Some inflammatory diseases that are fairly rare can cause lips to swell. All of them require expert and specialised medical attention. A condition that can cause swollen bumps on the upper lip is called granulomatous cheilitis [8].

The Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome [9] affects the upper lip, causing swelling. The lower lip tends to swell due to a condition called cheilitis glandularis [10]. It is inflammatory in nature and affects men more than women. It is also linked to lip cancer.

Did You Know?

  • When your lip is swollen because someone hit you there or you had a fall, only the lip that bore the brunt of the impact will be more swollen.
  • If you have visited a dentist for a root canal or any other treatment, and the dentist gave you local anesthesia for it, the lip that got the injection will be the only one swollen.

How To Treat Swollen Lips - 5 Home Remedies

Depending on the cause of the swelling, you can use instant remedial measures to reduce the inflammation. However, if there is incessant bleeding or the swelling hasn’t reduced in 24 hours, consult a doctor. Here are some effective and quick home remedies:

1. Salt Water Rinse

Though it may sting on an open cut, salt is actually considered a very good healing agent for lip injuries and other cuts to the mouth. That is because it has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities that can clean the open wound and minimise the chances of a bacterial infection.

Make a solution with warm water and a spoonful of salt. Soak some cotton in it and apply on the injured or swollen part. Repeat till the swelling reduces. Even gargling with this solution by swirling it inside your mouth and then spitting it out can help reduce the chances of an infection.

2. Baking Soda

Make a paste of baking soda with water and apply it on the swollen lip. Leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing it off. You can repeat the process if the swelling doesn’t reduce.

Baking soda, like salt, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory traits that can reduce swelling. The proportion for making the paste is 1:3 -- one teaspoon water and three teaspoons baking soda.

3. Turmeric Paste

Perhaps, the ingredient best known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial qualities since ancient times is turmeric, or curcumin (a compound present in turmeric) [11]. Make a thick paste of turmeric powder and water, apply to the swollen area or open wound.

You can even mix turmeric with extra virgin coconut oil or olive oil and apply the paste. It is known to remove infections and reduce inflammation. Repeat as often as required till the swelling comes down.

4. Cold Compress

This is one of the most effective ways to treat swollen lips, especially if the cause is an injury. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and hold gently against the swollen area. If you don’t have an ice pack, take a bag of frozen peas or any other frozen vegetable from your freezer and use it instead.

5. Aloe Vera/Moisturiser

If you have swelling due to sunburn or dry chapped lips, aloe vera gel can soothe instantly. If you don’t have aloe vera, apply any moisturiser or lip balm to moisturise the skin. Pure ghee can also be used as a good option to moisturise sunburnt lips.

Note:

If you have Mucoceles, it might require surgery to have it drained or removed.

Medical Treatments For Swollen Lips

  • Depending on the reason for the swelling, medical treatments may be required. If you have swelling due to Angioedema, epinephrine [12] is usually recommended. It is safer to carry a one-time use syringe and the drug with you for emergencies.
  • If an inflammatory condition causes the swelling, your doctor may recommend an anti-inflammatory medication that doesn’t contain steroids (NSAIDS) [13] or a corticosteroid [14] to bring down the swelling. The NSAID can also help if the swelling is due to an injury.
  • In the case of an injury, if there is a lot of swelling and bleeding, the doctor will probably clean and bandage your wound. Stitching up the cut may not be an option. But medical treatment is definitely required for such lip swelling.

When To See A Doctor?

1. When your lip swelling doesn’t reduce within 24 hours; despite using localised home remedies or OTC medication.

2. In case your lip swelling is an allergic reaction to a food item and the underlying cause is Angioedema.

3. If you’ve had an injury or been in an accident, and the lips are swollen, accompanied by symptoms like pain, incessant bleeding, skin and tissue damage.

4. If a cold sore causes swollen lips, or there is an infection building up, along with difficulty in breathing or swallowing, and the area around the lips feel numb.

5. When a cut on your lips wider than 3 mm, due to a fall or an injury, causes lip swelling. First aid should be administered immediately to stem the bleeding. But it needs to be looked at by a doctor.

6. Lips are swollen due to an infection followed by symptoms like fever, vomiting or shivering.

7. If a bump or cystic acne is causing swelling on the lips, the dermatologist may have to check for lumps in your lips or any other growth.

How Long Does Lip Swelling Last?

If the cause for the lip swelling is Angioedema, it can last for anything from 24-48 hours. If the cause is minor, then the swelling should come down within a few hours. Any swelling that takes longer than 24 hours to come down, and is not caused by a chronic or more severe condition shouldn’t be ignored and must be looked at by a doctor.

Wrapping Up

There can be various reasons behind swollen lips. From an injury to an infection, an allergy or something worse, if your lips swell up and don't subside in a few hours, you need to have it treated accordingly. Depending on the cause, whether acute or chronic, you can treat it at home or seek medical help.

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