Swollen upper lips can develop due to allergic reactions, injuries, or medication side effects. However, they can also stem from an infection, Crohn’s disease, and other underlying causes.

This article will detail some potential causes of a swollen upper lip. It will also provide an overview of some treatment options.

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Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a food, medication, material, or insect bite and treats it as a dangerous substance.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, over 50 million people in the United States have allergies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that food allergies affect approximately 8% of U.S. children.

An allergic reaction to food can take 2 hours to develop, but it may develop within minutes for some people.

A person can be allergic to any food or substance. However, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are nine major food allergens, which are:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • fish, such as cod or bass
  • crustacean shellfish, such as crab or shrimp
  • tree nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • soybeans
  • sesame

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:

  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • hives
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shock
  • tightening of the throat
  • swelling of the mouth and tongue
  • a weak pulse
  • pale skin
  • dizziness
  • anaphylaxis

There is currently no cure for food allergies, but a person can prevent allergic reactions by avoiding the allergens that affect them.

OAS is a type of contact allergic reaction. It develops when the mouth and throat come into contact with raw vegetables or fruits.

It can cause itching and swelling that affects the lips, mouth, tongue, throat, and face.

Swelling and itching in the mouth — including the lips, tongue, and uvula — will develop quickly in OAS. The symptoms often appear immediately, although they can develop over an hour later in rare cases.

Angioedema is the term for swelling below the surface of the skin and fatty tissues.

This can be a symptom of many conditions. It normally develops on the face, throat, hands, and feet but can also develop in the abdomen.

Swelling of the throat can be life threatening, as it may affect a person’s ability to breathe. If this occurs, the person needs immediate medical attention.

Angioedema is a short-term condition that usually develops due to an allergy. The person may also have hives, which refers to a raised, itchy rash.

If a person has difficulty breathing, feels faint or dizzy, collapses, or loses consciousness, they may be experiencing anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that develops quickly and requires immediate medical attention. People can have anaphylactic reactions to food, insect stings or bites, medications, and materials such as latex.

Anaphylactic reactions occur due to the immune system overreacting to a particular allergen, which causes symptoms across the body that can become severe.

Some people may be more likely to have anaphylactic reactions, such as those with existing allergies, asthma, or a family history of anaphylaxis. Also, having had previous anaphylactic reactions makes a person more likely to have another one.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • wheezing
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • a fast heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety or confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • blue or white lips
  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
  2. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

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Injury to the upper lip can also cause swelling, as the lips have a rich blood supply. This also means that the lips will bleed a lot but heal quickly.

Facial injuries can take the form of cuts, bites, burns, or trauma.

If an injury in the area becomes infected, the lips may swell. Infections can also cause the lips to feel warm and tender.

A person should seek medical attention if the bleeding does not stop or if any symptoms of infection develop.

Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a rare neurological condition that first presents during childhood or early adolescence.

A person with this condition will develop:

  • recurrent facial paralysis
  • lip swelling, which usually affects the upper lip
  • a fissured tongue

Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is possibly due to genetic factors, but it can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as sarcoidosis or Crohn’s disease.

Learn more about Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome.

Granulomatous cheilitis is a condition that causes persistent swelling of one or both lips.

The exact cause appears to be unknown. However, researchers have proposed allergic, immunologic, genetic, and microbial factors. It may also develop as a symptom of Crohn’s disease.

A person with granulomatous cheilitis may experience symptoms such as sudden swelling in the upper lip. The swelling may feel soft or firm, and lumps may also be under the skin.

The swelling may reoccur, and each time the swelling comes back, the lips may become more swollen, and episodes can last longer. Swelling may eventually become permanent.

The lips can become cracked and bleed as a result. Reddish-brown scars will form on the lips after the cracks have healed.

Along with swelling, granulomatous cheilitis can present some additional symptoms, including:

  • fever
  • headaches
  • problems with vision
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fissured or plicated tongue
  • facial palsy

The treatment options for a swollen upper lip will depend on the cause of the swelling:

  • Allergic reactions and OAS: Treating the swelling due to mild allergies and OAS includes taking antihistamines. However, a person should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they notice any swelling of the throat or difficulty breathing.
  • Angioedema: Treatment may not be necessary as it can resolve without intervention in a few days. However, a person can take antihistamines and corticosteroids to treat allergic angioedema, and a doctor may recommend an alternative if the cause is due to a medication.
  • Anaphylaxis: Anaphylaxis is treatable with epinephrine injections or EpiPens.
  • Injury: Treating an injury to the lip will involve ensuring the wound is clean while it heals. Depending on the type of injury, applying a cold compress may help reduce any swelling. A person should contact a doctor if there are any signs of infection.
  • Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome: Treatments for Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome include corticosteroid injections, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and antibiotics. Surgery and radiation therapy can help reduce very swollen lips. Treatment is not always necessary, however, as symptoms can improve by themselves. That said, episodes can become more frequent and last longer without treatment.
  • Granulomatous cheilitis: Treatment for granulomatous cheilitis can include surgery, antihistamines, antimicrobial medication, and corticosteroids. However, treatment may not always be necessary.

Seeing a doctor may not be necessary for a swollen lip. However, treatment may be necessary if the swelling persists or worsens,

A person should contact emergency medical attention if they are experiencing signs of anaphylaxis.

They should also contact a doctor if they experience symptoms of Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome or granulomatous cheilitis.

The causes of upper lip swelling can vary. Rare conditions, allergies, and injuries are all possible causes.

Treatments may not always be necessary for upper lip swelling, but there are a number of medical treatments available depending on the cause.

A person should seek medical advice before beginning treatment and if symptoms become severe.