Swollen lips can develop due to allergic reactions, injuries, or medication side effects. However, they can also be associated with certain rare conditions.
This article will explain why a person may get a swollen upper lip and the different treatment options that are available.
The sections below will look at some potential causes of a swollen upper lip in more detail.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, over 50 million people in the United States have allergies.
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a food, medication, material, or insect bite and treats it as a dangerous substance.
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 type of food or substance. However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), eight particular types of food or ingredient make up approximately 90% of all reactions.
- tree nuts
Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:
- stomach cramps
- shortness of breath
- tightening of the throat
- swelling of the mouth and tongue
- a weak pulse
- pale skin
There is currently no cure for food allergies, but a person can prevent allergic reactions by avoiding the allergens that affect them.
Oral allergy syndrome
Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) causes minor reactions to some raw fruits and vegetables. It results in swelling of the lips and tongue.
A contact allergy, which only affects the part of the mouth that the allergen has touched, can cause OAS.
Swelling and itching in the mouth — including the lips, tongue, and uvula — will develop quickly in OAS. This condition can occur in a person by the age of 5.
Foods that cause OAS are always raw, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as sunflower and fennel seeds.
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 it 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.
Some symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- breathing problems, including:
- shortness of breath
- a tight throat
- a hoarse voice
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- difficulty swallowing
- an itchy mouth and throat
- congestion in the nose
- skin problems, including:
- a rash
- circulation symptoms, including:
- pale or blue skin
- a low pulse rate
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- loss of consciousness
- low blood pressure
- stomach problems, including:
- stomach pain
- stomach cramps
- other symptoms, including:
Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a rare neurological condition. A person with this condition will have long lasting facial swelling, affecting one or both lips in particular. A person can also experience facial palsy and a fissured tongue.
Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, however. Sometimes, a person may only have one or two.
One of the first symptoms of Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is a swollen upper lip or lower lip. The cheeks, eyelids, or one side of the scalp can also be the first area to swell.
This swelling can disappear within a few hours or days, but it will become more severe when it reoccurs.
Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome is possibly due to genetic factors, but it can also be a symptom of other conditions.
Granulomatous cheilitis is a condition that causes persistent swelling of the lips.
Granulomatous cheilitis can be due to:
- allergic contact dermatitis
- Crohn’s disease
- orofacial granulomatosis
- genetic conditions
A person with granulomatous cheilitis may experience symptoms such as sudden swelling in the upper lip, which can disappear within a few hours or days. The swelling may feel soft or firm, and there may also be lumps under the skin.
The swelling may reoccur days after the first episode, but it may also return years after. 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, and over time, the lips will resemble the texture and consistency of hard rubber.
Along with swelling, granulomatous cheilitis can present some additional symptoms, including:
- problems with vision
- swollen lymph nodes (mild swelling occurs in 50% of cases)
- fissured or plicated tongue (the tongue becomes split, cracked, or folded in 20–40% of cases)
- facial palsy (weakness in the facial muscles can come and go or be permanent)
Cheilitis glandularis is a rare inflammatory condition that causes the lips to swell.
According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, cheilitis glandularis more commonly affects adult males.
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.
The treatment options for a swollen upper lip will depend on the cause of the swelling.
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.
Treatment for cheilitis glandularis and granulomatous cheilitis can include surgery, antihistamines, antimicrobial medication, and corticosteroids. However, treatment may not always be necessary.
Anaphylaxis is treatable with epinephrine injections, or EpiPens.
The treatment for OAS is similar to the treatment for pollen allergies. This may include antihistamines, epinephrine, and immunotherapy. There is no specific medication for OAS, however.
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.