Lips bumps can vary in size, appearance, and associated symptoms. Treatment depends on the cause, but a person can often use over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies. More serious causes of lip bumps may require medical treatment.
In this article, we look at possible causes of lip bumps, ways to treat them, and when to see a doctor.
There are many possible causes for lip bumps:
One of the most common causes of lip bumps is HSV.
HSV is contagious, and people can easily become infected through direct contact with the sores.
Cold sores usually clear up on their own within a week or so.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Another viral infection that can cause lip bumps is hand, foot, and mouth disease or HFMD. Symptoms of HFMD include:
- loss of appetite
- a sore throat and mouth
- feeling unwell
- red spots in the mouth that develop into painful sores
- a rash on the fingers, hands, soles of the feet, buttocks, and groin
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that results from a bacterial infection. It often begins with red, painless sores that can appear on the genitals or around the anus but sometimes also on the lips or inside the mouth.
Symptoms can often be mild at first, and many people may not realize they have the disease. Doctors can usually treat syphilis with antibiotics. However, it can cause severe complications if left untreated.
Oral thrush, or oral candidiasis, is an infection that results from a type of yeast known as Candida. This yeast is naturally present in the mouth, but it can sometimes cause problems if it grows too much.
Symptoms of oral thrush can include:
- white patches or splotches on the tongue, throat, and inner surfaces of the mouth
- redness and cracking at the corners of the mouth
- loss of taste or an unusual sensation in the mouth
- redness or soreness
- pain when eating or swallowing
Anyone can get oral thrush, but people with weakened immunes systems are at greater risk than others. A person can often treat oral thrush with an OTC antifungal medication.
Certain makeup products, such as lipstick, may cause an allergic reaction.
An allergic reaction to a specific substance known as an allergen may cause inflammation of the lip followed by a bump.
Allergens that can trigger a reaction on the lips include some foods, pet dander, and some lipstick products, such as those containing titanium and other harsh chemicals.
People with this type of reaction usually experience a sudden lip swelling that normally disappears after a while.
Fordyce spots are clusters of small white or yellowish spots on or near the lips. They are not contagious or painful.
These spots are enlarged sebaceous glands that naturally exist on the lips and other moist tissues, such as the inner mouth cheeks or the genitals, and usually disappear over time.
Canker sores are small, flat ulcers that can form inside the lips or cheeks, on the tongue, or at the base of the gums. They typically develop in adolescents and young adults and can keep reoccurring throughout a person's life.
Canker sores are usually painful but are not contagious. Triggers can include stress, injuries to the mouth, and certain foods, such as coffee, chocolate, strawberries, peanuts, and tomatoes. The sores usually go away on their own within a week or so.
Mucoceles, or mucus retention cysts, are harmless, fluid-filled swellings that form on the lower lip, gums, or the lining inside the mouth.
People usually experience mucoceles after an injury, such as accidentally biting the lip, or from blockage of the salivary gland, which is responsible for draining saliva into the mouth.
Most mucoceles go away on their own without treatment.
Milia are small, white cysts that can form on the skin. They are often seen in newborns and tend to develop on the face, particularly on the nose, chin, or cheeks, but sometimes also along the border of the lips.
Milia result from dead skin cells that become trapped inside small pockets on the skin's surface.
They are harmless, painless, and require no medical treatment, usually disappearing on their own within a month or two.
Doctors are unsure what causes perioral dermatitis, but the use of face creams containing corticosteroids, certain cosmetic creams, or skin contact with water or toothpaste containing fluoride may be potential triggers.
Risk factors for oral cancer include:
- smoking or use of tobacco products
- heavy alcohol use
- being male
- prolonged exposure to natural sunlight and artificial sunlight, such as from tanning beds
Early symptoms of oral cancer include tiny sores or lumps appearing on the lips that do not heal. These sores can grow and spread to the inside of the mouth, gums, tongue, and jaw. Sometimes, they can also turn from white to red.
Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms that could suggest oral cancer should consult a doctor.
Other possible causes
Other possible factors of lip bumps include:
- lip dryness
- reaction to foods, such as strawberries, chocolate, coffee, peanuts, or tomatoes
Hand, foot and mouth disease
Image credit: MidgleyDJ, (2008, May).
Image credit: Dozenist (2006, April 16)
When to see a doctor
Most lip bumps are not a cause for concern, and many types go away on their own without treatment. However, a person should see a doctor if they have:
- lip bumps that persist for several weeks without healing
- itchy or irritating bumps
- mouth or face swelling
- swallowing or breathing problems
- lumps on the lips, gums, or mouth
- bleeding, pain, or numbness of the lips, gums, or mouth
- loss of teeth
- voice changes
- throat soreness
- a fast-spreading rash
To diagnose a lip bump, a doctor will likely start by taking the person's medical history and asking about their symptoms. They may ask about the person's smoking or drinking habits, sun exposure, and if they use any creams or medications.
The doctor may then carry out a physical examination of the lips, mouth, and throat to look for areas of tenderness or inflammation. They may also inspect the neck for swollen lymph nodes.
To help with their diagnosis, the doctor may order some tests, such as:
- blood tests
- an X-ray of the mouth and jaw
- a biopsy of the bump
When a biopsy is performed, a doctor removes a small sample of cells from the lesion and sends it for analysis under a microscope
Treatment for bumps on the lips depends on the underlying cause.
For bumps resulting from an infection, the doctor may prescribe:
- an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, such as syphilis
- an antifungal medication for fungal or yeast infections, such as oral thrush
- an antiviral medication for a viral infection, such as herpes
If an allergy or inflammation is causing the bump, the doctor may recommend antihistamines.
For canker sores, a doctor may prescribe or recommend:
- a corticosteroids cream or ointment, such as those containing dexamethasone, fluocinonide, or clobetasol
- a mouth rinse, usually containing chlorhexidine
For cold sores, the doctor may recommend:
- creams to ease any pain and irritation
- antiviral medicines to fight the virus
- cold patches to protect the skin while healing
For perioral dermatitis, the doctor may prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic if the condition is severe. Antibiotics may include tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, or erythromycin.
Gently washing the face may help aid healing.
There are some home remedies and self-care measures that can speed up healing of a lip bump and relieve any discomfort or pain. These may include:
- Washing the face only with warm water until the bump disappears, and then a non-soap bar or a liquid cleanser afterward.
- Drying the face gently after washing, such as by patting the skin dry rather than rubbing.
- Avoiding face creams, cosmetics, and sunscreen.
- Eating a healthful and balanced diet that includes plenty of vitamins and minerals from whole foods.
- Drinking plenty of water daily.
- Avoiding touching, squeezing, or scrubbing the bump.
- Maintaining good oral hygiene, such as by brushing teeth twice a day and flossing daily.
- Using lip products with sun protection factor and natural ingredients.
Lip bumps have many possible causes. They are often harmless and will go away on their own. However, some lip bumps may require treatment, and they can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition, such as oral cancer.
People should see a doctor for any lip bumps that do not clear up within a couple of weeks or occur alongside other troublesome symptoms.