Full lips might be popular among Hollywood stars, but for the rest of us, swollen lips may be a sign of a problem. Lips usually swell due to trauma or allergies, though some swollen lip causes are more serious. How quickly a swollen lip heals can indicate what's causing the swelling.
What Happens When Your Lip Swells?
When lips swell, it's due to the blood vessels that supply them filling with blood. The structure of the lips includes the thin, delicate skin that covers the outside and the muscle that lies underneath, which is filled with blood vessels. The final, inner layer of the lips is called the oral mucosa, and it's part of the mucous membrane that lines the mouth. When blood rushes to the lips in response to trauma, allergic reaction or infection, the additional blood makes the lips swell.
Swollen Lips and Injuries
Even minor trauma that doesn't break the skin can cause the lips to swell, like sports injuries. It's also easy to hurt your lips bumping into things or through other minor accidents. The swelling usually goes down without treatment, but sometimes swelling hides other injuries, like cuts and abrasions that can become infected or make chewing and speaking difficult.
Swollen Lips and Allergic Reactions
Pollen, medications, dyes and certain trigger foods and drinks cause allergic reactions that include swollen lips. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) explains that when the body experiences an allergic reaction, it produces histamine. This chemical causes the blood vessels in the lips to swell. Other symptoms of an allergic reaction are red, itchy welts known as hives, a swollen or tight throat, breathing difficulties, muscle pain, fever, and rashes or discolored patches on the feet, genitals, hands or face.
Rare Swollen Lip Causes
When swollen lips have no obvious cause, they might be a symptom of a rare condition or disease. The UMMC lists hereditary angioedema, leukemia and Hodgkin's disease as a few unusual causes of swollen lips. The swelling may also be due to MRSA lip cellulitis, as described in a publication of the University of Dentistry and Medicine of New Jersey, or granulomatous cheilitis, as mentioned in Clinical Advisor.
When to See a Doctor for Swollen Lips
Swollen lips often return to normal without treatment, but if you also experience more serious symptoms, like breathing difficulties or heavy bleeding, get immediate medical attention. Other reasons to see a doctor include if the swelling continues for longer than a few days or if it's accompanied by pain or fever, which may mean your lips are infected. Also see a doctor if the swelling has no clear cause or if it comes and goes for no apparent reason.
In less serious cases, you can use home treatments to help the swelling go down. A mild allergic reaction that causes lip swelling is usually over within four days, especially if you use over-the-counter antihistamines. For minor cuts and abrasions inside the mouth, rinse with Colgate Peroxyl Mouth Sore Rinse, which facilitates healing, alleviates discomfort and provides a whole mouth clean.
Swollen lips are usually more inconvenient than serious, but if you have other, more severe symptoms, see a doctor right away. An allergic reaction can turn life-threatening quickly, and serious swelling can also be a sign of another harmful medical condition. In most cases though, icing an injury and keeping the area clean may heal your lips in no time.