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Lip Swelling Causes

Allergic reaction of medications and viral infection that causes cold sores on the mouth are some of the most common causes of swollen lips.
Nicks J
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Sudden swelling of the lips generally points toward an allergic reaction to drugs or ingested food. However, a physical injury can also cause swelling in the upper or lower lip. If the underlying cause is not serious, the swelling may vanish within a week or two without any medical treatment. It is discussed below:
Allergic Reactions
In an allergic reaction, the immune system responds in an abnormal manner to substances that are actually harmless. For instance, upon detection of infectious agents, the immune system may respond by raising the body temperature. Although this is quite normal, the same immune response is not expected when it detects harmless substances like medication and food. However, during an allergic reaction, the immune system considers harmless substances as its enemy and attacks them. As a result, this unusual response of the immune system can give rise to medical problems varying from bothersome health issues to life-threatening conditions. Some of the common allergens are given below:
Patients are often advised to take certain drugs, as a part of medical treatment. However, if the person has an allergy towards the medicine, it causes side effects that may appear in the form of skin problems likes hives, itchy skin, and facial swelling that typically affects the cheeks and the lips. The lips becoming abnormally large often occurs during a severe allergic reaction. Medication like antibiotics are notorious for causing allergic reactions.
The body's inability to tolerate consumption of certain foods can also trigger an allergic reaction. The most common type of food allergy, diagnosed in adults is milk allergy. Some are allergic to casein, a protein found in milk. Another type of allergy observed in children is lactose intolerance, which means the body is unable to produce lactose (an enzyme), necessary to promote digestion of milk sugar. Depending upon individual health, food items that cause an allergic reaction in the form of lip swelling are given below. Basically, these food products contain a type of protein that may cause this problem:
  • Nuts that include peanuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and pistachios
  • Seafood that include shellfish, shrimp, crayfish, crab, and lobster
  • Eggs
  • Additives
Insect Stings
People with sensitive skin cannot tolerate insect bites or stings and so are predisposed to allergic reactions, which may cause inflamed lips. Thus, insect stings can make the upper or bottom lip swollen. Usually, an insect sting causes localized swelling and redness, in some cases the injected venom can trigger a severe allergic reaction, thereby causing facial swelling and a breathing problem. Some of the stinging insects that can bring about allergic reaction are given below:
  • Yellow jackets
  • Honeybees
  • Wasps
  • Hornets
  • Black widow (spider)
Cold Sores
This is basically a viral infection that leads to formation of fluid filled blisters on or around the lips. Triggered by the invasion of herpes simplex virus type 1, the infection not only causes red blisters but is also accompanied by a painful sensation around the mouth. In this condition, the lips appear inflamed and even a soft touch can trigger mild to moderate pain.
Drug Side Effects
Swelling of the lips can also occur as a consequence of taking chemotherapy drugs that are used for the treatment of cancer. People put on chemotherapy drugs experience cracked lips. The lips turn extremely dry and appear swollen.
Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
This is yet another viral infection that shows its symptoms on the hand, foot, and the mouth. Initially, the person affected with the virus develops fever and then complains about sore throat and fatigue. This is followed by formation of skin lesions on the inner side of the lips. The development of mouth sores that causes inflamed lips is then followed by a rash that typically appears on the hands and the feet.
Facial Injury
A facial injury can also cause swelling on the lips. A blow to the face during contact sports like boxing can leave a person with swollen lips. A trauma such as an accident involving the face could also bring about inflammation of the lips.
Stomach Problems
People who have ulcers in the stomach or those suffering from acid reflux, a condition in which the stomach acids gain access to the food pipe, may develop swollen lips. Intestinal issues like Crohn's disease can also be responsible for causing swelling on the lips.
Treatment for inflammation of the lips depends upon the underlying cause. For instance, inflamed lips resulting from cold sores might be treated with oral antiviral drugs as well as topical creams to manage the symptoms. On the other hand, corticosteroid or epinephrine injections might be administered to overcome severe allergic reactions to medication. Whereas, hand, foot and mouth disease generally does not need any treatment as the infection goes away on its own within 10 days. Home remedies that involve use of cold compress are also helpful to reduce the inflammation on the lips. External application of prescription corticosteroid cream is also useful to reduce lip swelling.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.