If the skin around the lips is blue or purple, the issue is often temporary and no cause for concern. But if the skin of the lips is blue, and this tinge extends to the mouth, face, or other areas, seek medical care right away.
Blue lips, like any blue skin, results from a lack of oxygen in the blood.
Blood that is full of oxygen is red, creating a warm hue, especially on lighter skin. Blood that is low in oxygen is blue or purple, causing the skin to take on a similar shade.
This coloring can be more noticeable where the skin is thinnest, such as the lips, and the skin of newborns is particularly thin.
People describing blue lips may be referring to a purplish coloration around the lips. This is a common issue that is not usually serious and tends to fade quickly. A truly blue tinge to the lips is rare and a cause for concern.
Though the coloring may be purplish, we continue using the more common term, “blue lips,” below. But we describe the distinctions and when to seek help in more detail.
If the skin around the lips looks blue or the lips look purplish but the baby is breathing comfortably and behaving normally, the issue is unlikely to be serious.
If the baby is struggling or unable to breathe, call 911 immediately. The baby’s airway could be blocked by food or another foreign object. A baby who is choking may not make noise.
The 911 operator can give step-by-step instructions about what to do.
Usually, lips that are temporarily bluish result from the baby being cold, such as after a bath or during exposure to cold air.
Babies are less able to regulate body temperature than older children, so reactions to temperature changes may be extreme. The lips should regain their usual color as the baby’s temperature returns to normal.
If the lips remain blue after the baby warms up or if there is no clear reason for the bluish tinge, it could indicate an issue that requires professional care.
Anyone with concerns should speak with a healthcare provider.
Acrocyanosis causes a painless discoloration of the extremities and sometimes the area around the mouth. The lips of the baby may appear purplish, but not truly blue.
It is very common in newborns, and it results from temperature changes. When a baby gets cold, their blood vessels constrict to concentrate the flow of blood around vital organs, such as the heart, lungs, and brain.
As the baby’s internal temperature regulates, their coloring should return to normal.
Central cyanosis can indicate a severe underlying problem with the baby’s oxygen system.
The issue causes areas of skin to turn blue, particularly the lips, facial skin, and tongue. It indicates that the baby’s blood does not have enough oxygen.
Numerous health conditions can cause central cyanosis.
Many involve abnormalities of the lungs, heart, or airways. For example, a congenital heart abnormality could be causing blood to bypass the lungs and not collect new oxygen to deliver. The abnormality may be tetralogy of Fallot or tricuspid atresia.
Otherwise, respiratory conditions — asthma, pneumonia, or bronchiolitis — could be limiting the amount of oxygen entering the blood.
Also, environmental factors could be involved. Smoke inhalation, for example, can limit the amount of oxygen in the blood.
If a baby is struggling to breathe, call 911 immediately. Keep in mind that a baby who is choking may not make noise.
If a blue tinge extends from around the lips to the mouth, tongue, head, or other areas, speak with a healthcare provider immediately.
If a baby has bluish lips frequently — with no obvious cause, such as temperature changes — but is otherwise behaving normally, it is worth consulting a doctor.
If blue skin develops just around the lips and on the hands and feet, the issue is likely acrocyanosis, which resolves on its own over time.
Acrocyanosis requires no treatment. The coloration fades as the baby’s internal temperature stabilizes, and the issue resolves over time as the baby’s circulatory system matures.
Central cyanosis is usually a sign of an underlying health problem. Depending on the diagnosis, the treatment or management plan varies. Early diagnosis is key in preventing complications.
A bluish or purplish tinge to the lips results from a decrease in blood oxygen levels.
If this skin around the lips has this tinge, as may the extremities, the cause is usually a change in body temperature. The coloration typically fades quickly and the issue resolves on its own over time.
However, if a blue tinge to the lips extends to the tongue, mouth, the skin on the face, or other areas, speak with a healthcare professional right away. If the baby seems to be struggling to breathe, contact emergency services.