Having numb lips or a tingling sensation on the lips may indicate various health conditions, ranging from chapped lips to stroke. Viral infections and allergic reactions are also possible causes.

Often, temporary conditions affecting the lips are to blame, such as allergic reactions, chapped lips, and cold sores. However, conditions that affect nervous system function can also cause tingling and numbness.

How suddenly lip tingling develops and whether other symptoms are present can give a person clues as to the cause and severity.

We explore 10 causes of numbness affecting the lips, including which symptoms indicate a medical emergency and when to seek advice from a doctor.

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An allergic reaction to eating trigger foods or medications can often cause tingling and swelling of the lips. In severe allergic reactions, this swelling can continue in the mouth and throat. This is a medical emergency.

A person can help a medical professional diagnose the allergy by keeping track of any potential triggers.

Chapped or cracked lips are often sore or tingle. This can happen when lips become very dry during the winter, in a hot climate, or if someone has a skin condition like eczema.

A moisturizing lip balm can make skin softer and prevent cracking or splitting.

The first sign of a cold sore is a tingling or burning sensation around the mouth and lips, which then develops into small sores filled with fluid. The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores.

Cold sores usually heal without treatment in 7 – 10 days, but using an antiviral cream when a person feels tingling lips may help speed up the healing process.

Most children will experience chickenpox at some point. However, after they recover, the virus remains inactive in the body. Later in life, it can re-emerge as shingles, an infection that causes an itching, burning, or tingling feeling in the skin, as well as painful blisters or a rash. Shingles can affect any part of the skin, including the mouth and lips.

Antiviral drugs can reduce pain and help blisters to heal, particularly if taken as soon as symptoms appear. Relaxing, reducing stress, and placing a cool, damp washcloth on blisters can help ease the symptoms.

Neuropathy can be caused by physical damage to the skin, such as a burn. Extreme heat or cold exposure, sunburn, or contact with a toxic substance such as bleach can damage nerves in the lips and lead to tingling, numbness, and pain.

Strokes are medical emergencies where something interrupts blood flow to the brain. The signs of stroke appear very quickly, so a person should seek emergency help if someone has any of these symptoms:

  • sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • loss of balance or dizziness
  • confusion or difficulty speaking
  • a severe headache with no apparent reason
  • drooping face, mouth, or eye on one side

The cranial nerves run from the brain to the head and face and control movement and sensation. An injury to the brain, such as a concussion, can damage these nerves and affect how well they work.

The trigeminal nerve is one of the cranial nerves; it is responsible for sensation in the face. Damage to this nerve can cause a loss of sensation in the face, including tingling or numbness in the lips.

One symptom of a panic attack can be a feeling of pins and needles. If tingling lips are accompanied by symptoms such as shortness of breath, a racing heartbeat, or shaking limbs, it may be a sign that someone is experiencing a panic attack or is about to have one.

A panic attack can be very distressing but will usually only last for 5 – 20 minutes.

Lupus is a disease of the immune system that can affect many parts of the body, including the nerves. If the tissue surrounding nerves is swollen, the pressure may affect the nerves’ ability to transmit information.

Lupus can be difficult to diagnose due to the number of symptoms. Other symptoms that could indicate damage to the nervous system include problems with vision, dizziness, pain affecting the face, or a drooping eyelid.

This condition affects blood flow to the farthest parts of the body, such as the hands and feet, but it can also affect the lips and tongue.

Blood vessels will respond to the cold or to stress by shrinking, which causes a feeling of extreme cold, tingling, or numbness. It may also turn the affected part of the body white or blue.

Someone who has Raynaud’s disease should take care to keep warm and dry, reduce stress, and quit smoking if necessary to reduce their symptoms.

If someone displays any stroke symptoms, call 911 or the local emergency number. It is important to seek urgent treatment to limit the damage that a stroke can cause to the brain and body.

In the case of a severe allergy, someone may show signs of anaphylactic shock. Emergency medical care is needed if a person has trouble breathing, has throat swells, has difficulty swallowing, develops hives, or has stomach cramps.

Symptoms of the less common conditions associated with tingling lips, such as Lupus, shingles, or Raynaud’s disease, should be checked by a healthcare professional. Proper diagnosis is the best way to begin treating and preventing tingling lips.

The most common reasons for tingling lips are physical damage to the lips, viruses that affect the skin, and allergic reactions. These causes should all be easy to spot and treat at home, although prescription medication may be needed.

More serious medical conditions are associated with tingling lips, and knowing the additional symptoms can help a person receive early diagnosis and treatment.

Knowing the warning signs of a stroke or a severe allergic reaction can save a life and limit the effects of a medical emergency.