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Your lips are composed of soft fleshy tissue covered by a thin layer of skin, making them extremely fragile and susceptible to damage or injury.
People get swollen lips due to a variety of reasons. The tissue inflammation causes the lips to become enlarged and painfully tender. Lack of proper lip care in such a condition can lead to cuts or bruises that will make opening the mouth to speak, eat, drink, or even yawn very difficult.
The lip swelling may be accompanied by other discomforting symptoms, depending upon the underlying condition. These include pain or a burning sensation on the lips, sensitivity to touch, chapping or excessive drying of the lips that may or may not be cracking too, reddening (erythema), eruption of hives or spots on the skin, fever, and/or headache.
Even some respiratory difficulties such as wheezing, frequent sneezing, and a runny or congested nasal cavity may occur. Most mild cases of lip swelling can be easily managed at home, but seek medical help if your condition persists, is severely intolerable, or becomes progressively worse despite proper self-care.
Read on to learn about some useful home remedies that can alleviate lip swelling without the need for medication.
Disclaimer: Lip swelling can be a symptom of a critical medical condition such as infection, severe inflammation, or anaphylactic reaction, especially if it develops gradually or is accompanied by other symptoms. Therefore, it is best to seek medical care at the earliest. You can use home remedies if the swelling is very mild or upon your doctor’s advice.
Possible Causes of Swollen Lips
There is a wide spectrum of possible causes for swollen lips, some less severe and long lasting than the others. The milder cases tend to resolve on their own with time.
However, the lip inflammation can also stem from serious and potentially life-threatening conditions that require prompt and thorough medical attention.
Here are some of the major causes of swollen lips:
- Allergic reaction to cosmetics, drugs, or medications such as penicillin, pollen, animal dander, dust, or almost any other possible allergen. Food allergies are also a common reason. Food items that often pose as allergens include milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, and eggs. (1)
- Puncturing wounds caused by an insect bite or sting, lip piercings, or broken tooth and accidental cuts during a dental procedure can make your lips swell.
- Sustained pressure on the lips for prolonged periods during dental treatments or due to braces can cause inflammation.
- Minor wounds or cuts to the lips, such as a paper cut or a bite of the lower lip, and minor lacerations may lead to mucoceles, which are bumps on the wounded surface and may give your lips an appearance of swelling.
- Nutritional deficiencies can also trigger lip swelling.
- Harsh temperatures or sunburn can cause chapping of the lips.
- Lip swelling can also be a sign of varicella, herpes, measles, and other oral or gum infections (viral and bacterial).
- Musicians who play mouth instruments, such as the trumpet, exert a lot of pressure on their lips for prolonged hours in doing so. Their facial muscles get pulled, stretched, and twisted with a force and often become dysfunctional over time. This muscle dysfunction is also associated with lip swelling.
- Some rare medical conditions may cause lip swelling too. These conditions include granulomatous cheilitis, (2) orofacial granulomatosis (can cause recurrent swelling of the lips), (3) Crohn’s disease, and Miescher-Melkersson-Rosenthal syndrome (characterized by a swollen lip, fissured tongue, and weakness in the facial muscles). (4)
Home Remedies for Swollen Lips
The following are some popularly used home remedies that can be used to alleviate mild swelling of the lips.
Note: Before using any of these topical remedies, make sure to clean your swollen lips with unscented soap and water or a gentle disinfectant solution to get rid of any germs, irritants, or debris. This pretreatment cleansing will help you avoid secondary infections.
Caution: Always patch test the remedy before applying it to your lips to rule out any adverse or allergic reactions.
1. Apply a cool compress
Applying freezing temperature on your swollen lips reduces blood circulation in the area by shrinking the blood vessels. The lack of blood flow makes the swelling go down. But this mechanism mainly works when the compress is used immediately after a lip injury. It may not be quite as effective if the swelling is caused by other conditions.
Cold therapy also temporarily numbs the underlying nerve endings to make you feel less pain. This simple home therapy works especially well for soothing lip inflammation caused by a piercing.
How to use:
- Make a cool compress by wrapping a few ice cubes in a soft, clean washcloth or paper towel. You can also put a spoon in the freezer and use it as a compress. Gently apply the cool compress all over your lips using gentle pressure. Do this for no more than 10 minutes at a stretch.
- For a warm compress, simply soak a clean washcloth in warm water and then wring out the excess liquid before applying it to your lips. You can also use warm black/chamomile tea bags for this purpose, but drain out the excess water first. Gently press this compress all over the swollen area for 10 minutes.
- Switch between these two treatments multiple times during the day until you notice improvement.
Caution: Applying frozen items directly to your lips can worsen the tissue damage and can even lead to frostnip. So, it’s imperative that you cover them in a washcloth or towel, which acts as a buffer between the extreme temperature and your sensitive skin. Also, check the temperature of the warm compress before applying to make sure it’s not too hot for your skin, or else you will end up with burns.
2. Apply aloe vera gel
Aloe vera gel is enriched with a variety of bioactive compounds that can prove quite useful in relieving lip swelling.
For instance, C-glucosyl chromone helps reduce inflammation, and the antioxidants repair the damage done by solar radiation. Glucomannan and gibberellin stimulate the activity and proliferation of fibroblast cells that make up new collagen to repair injured lips. (7)
How to use:
Cut open an aloe vera leaf to extract the gel from inside it. Gently massage this gel all over your lips and the surrounding area so that it gets properly absorbed.
You can also add a few drops of tea tree oil to your gel to curb any mild infection and to prevent secondary ones. This is because tea tree oil works as a strong antimicrobial agent that can disinfect the affected skin.
Caution: Be careful not to swallow the gel as it can cause some serious gastrointestinal issues when ingested in unprocessed form.
3. Use cold-pressed coconut oil
Coconut oil is rich in antimicrobial lauric acid, which can help control the growth of harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses. In addition, coconut oil helps cleanse the skin pores while moisturizing it.
Coconut oil is a natural emollient, trapping moisture to keep your lips supple and nourishing them at the same time.
How to use:
- Put a few drops of coconut oil on your lips and massage gently.
- Allow the lips to absorb the coconut oil.
- You can repeat the remedy daily until the swelling decreases.
4. Try Epsom salt
Epsom salt is known to inhibit the activity of cytokines that are responsible for triggering inflammation in the body. (8) This anti-inflammatory effect helps reduce the swelling and pain in your lips.
An Epsom salt compress is especially soothing for bruised lips.
How to use:
- Stir some Epsom salt in plain regular water to make a solution.
- Soak a clean cloth in the solution.
- Place it over your lips for about 15 minutes.
5. Prepare turmeric paste
The most bioactive compound in turmeric is curcumin, which is known to exhibit significant antiseptic and anti-inflammatory effects that can help heal swollen lips. (9)
The anti-inflammatory properties reduce swelling and pain, whereas the antiseptic properties can disinfect any open cuts or wounds and prevent secondary infections.
How to use:
- Add a few drops of cold water to turmeric powder to make a thick paste. You can mix in some fuller’s earth, but this is completely optional.
- Smear the paste on your swollen lips.
- Wait for it to dry before washing it off with lukewarm water.
- Do this remedy two times daily.
6. Rinse with saturated saltwater
Salt is credited with powerful anti-inflammatory properties, (10)(11) which can help reduce the swelling in and around the lips. It also works as an antibacterial agent, (12) which can sanitize any lacerations on the lips to minimize the risk of secondary infections.
How to use:
- Mix ample table salt in some warm water to make a concentrated saline solution.
- Dip a cotton ball in the mixture, and gently dab it all over the affected area.
- Do this for a while, and then let the solution dry. The mild heat and salt will both help to bring down the swelling over repeated applications.
- You can also gargle with the saline solution to sanitize your oral cavity.
- Repeat this remedy until you get satisfactory results.
Note: If you have any tears or cuts on your lips, the saline solution might sting a little but you have to bear through it.
7. Apply plant oils or natural fats
Often, swollen lips are accompanied by chapping and cracking of the skin, particularly in cases of sunburn.
Plant oils, such as extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, and natural fats, such as shea butter or milk cream, are both deeply hydrating and can help restore moisture to your dry, swollen lips. (13)
How to use:
- Wash your lips with water and dab away the excess moisture, while keeping them slightly damp.
- Massage a few drops of the aforementioned plant oils or natural fats in your lips. Don’t wash, wipe, or lick your lips and avoid drinking or eating for at least an hour so that product is sufficiently absorbed into the skin.
- Reapply whenever your lips start to feel dry again.
Note: Petroleum jelly is a good alternative if you can’t get your hands on either a plant oil or a natural fat.
As you undergo medical treatment for your swollen lips or use home remedies for the same, here are some self-care measures that can accelerate the recovery process:
1. Keep your head elevated
During the primary stages of your recovery, keep your head elevated as much as you can. The best way to do this during sleep is by propping a few pillows under your head.
When the head is above the heart level, the excess blood pooling under your lips will drain down, causing the swelling to subside.
2. Consume soft and mild foods
Lip swelling can make your entire mouth extremely tender such that it may hurt to bite or chew solid foods. Plus, these foods are hard and can further injure your already-sensitive lips, which can prolong the healing process.
It is recommended to consume mostly soft foods and liquids such as yogurt, tepid soups, cool smoothies, mashed potatoes, and boiled apples. It is also advised to avoid spicy or hot foods, especially when there are lacerations on your lips that are making them swell.
3. Take OTC analgesics
You can take over-the-counter painkillers (analgesics) to ease the mild pain associated with swollen lips.
If these don’t work, consider regular NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which are also available without a prescription but must be taken in the recommended amounts. The pharmacist can help you with that, or you can call your doctor to ascertain the appropriate dosage.
People with the following conditions should be especially careful when using NSAIDs and must seek consultation before taking them:
- 65 years of age or above
- Less than 16 years of age
- Pregnant or trying to conceive
- History of stomach ulcers
- Preexisting heart, liver, or kidney disease
- Problems with blood circulation or bowels
- Taking other medications
If the pain is unbearably strong, you must visit a doctor at once to get a proper diagnosis.
Note: There are OTC antihistamines available for curbing mild allergic reactions (such as Benadryl), but it’s best to consult a doctor first, especially if it is happening to you for the first time. The doctor will consider all the necessary factors before deciding if it’s suitable for you and will spare you the risk of undue complications such as angioedema.
4. Avoid touching or licking it
Do not touch your swollen lip unless you are washing it or applying some remedy. If it is not infectious, it may turn into one. Licking your swollen lip is also to be avoided especially in case of any infectious cause. In such cases, the pathogen may enter your oral cavity.
Home Remedies or Medical Intervention: When to See a Doctor
As has been mentioned above, swollen lips can be caused by a variety of reasons; some are just mild and tend to subside on their own, whereas some can be quite detrimental to your health.
A very simple example of this is an allergic reaction characterized by swollen lips. Depending upon the kind of the allergen and your sensitivity to it, you may either show the symptoms of an oral allergy syndrome or angioedema.
Oral allergy syndrome is a very mild allergic reaction that is more tingly than irritating. A localized reaction, it usually resolves in a few minutes (remember the slight itching at the back of your tongue whenever you eat a pineapple?).
On the other, angioedema can easily aggravate in just a few minutes and can prove lethal if not addressed at once. The symptoms of angioedema may initially be mild, but they soon turn serious such as respiratory dysfunction, cyanosis, hives, and an eventual anaphylaxis shock.
Swelling of lips caused by piercing, minor cuts, or hot food items can be easily treated with home remedies. But if your lip laceration starts to bleed and does not get better with time, you should see a doctor about it.
Even some infections can make your lips swell. In such cases, you will need medication to kill the microbial overgrowth, but home remedies such as a cool compress can still be used as an adjunct to the main treatment for symptomatic relief.
The bottom line is to seek medical advice if there is even the slightest cause for concern, such as:
- Your lips become swollen without an apparent cause.
- The lip swelling persists or gets worse despite proper home care.
- The lip swelling is accompanied by breathing problems.
- You suspect any of the life-threatening conditions discussed in this article.
- The lip swelling is recurrent
Swollen lips can be hard to ignore as they sit right on your face and therefore can make you feel extremely conscious about your appearance. But this is not merely a cosmetic concern; it can give rise to a lot of discomfort too. Plus, the inflammation can be a sign of some potentially dangerous conditions that warrant timely treatment.
Thus, you must not take this problem lightly and address it in the best way possible. For that, you must first try to identify the reason behind the swelling, which could range from a recent injury or trauma to the lips, infections, allergies, and lack of certain nutrients to rare underlying ailments.
Mild cases can be treated easily at home with simple remedies and self-care tips, but the more serious, persistent, or complicated ones will require medical intervention.