Why are my lips swollen?
Hayfever is essentially an allergy to pollen. Here the immune system identifies pollen as an irritant and so, in response, it releases a wave of inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals can linger in the body and cause a build-up of fluid known oedema. In most cases this type of swelling occurs around the eyes but, on occasion, it can affect the lips too.
What is anaphylaxis?
Many people worry that this kind of swelling is a sign of anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. This can cause the throat, tongue and lips to swell, thus hindering your ability to breathe. Anaphylaxis can come on very suddenly but is often accompanied by symptoms that are easy to recognise such as increased heart rate, flushed skin and vomiting.
If you are suffering from anaphylactic shock you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. However, if anaphylaxis is not at the root of the problem (and if you’re taking the time to read this article, it probably isn’t!), the far more likely cause of your swollen lips is angioedema.1
What is angioedema?
When the immune system instigates an inflammatory reaction, as in does in reaction to pollen, chemicals like histamine can cause your blood vessels to swell. Sometimes fluid can escape from these tiny vessels, leaking into your skin tissues. This type of swelling, which takes place beneath the surface of the skin, is known as angioedema.
A couple of common symptoms of angioedema include:
- Swelling around the eyes, lips and hands
- Allergic conjunctivitis
Angioedema frequently occurs alongside hives, giving rise to the idea that the two conditions are one and the same. This, however, is not the case as hives affect the outer layer of skin whereas angioedema tends to influence tissues under the skin. Angioedema can also appear without hives, although such instances are fairly rare.
The NHS has estimated that although around 1 in 5 people will suffer from angioedema at some point in their lives, normally it is not a cause for concern.2 In episodes of severe angioedema, though, the throat and tongue can be affected, so it is always a good idea to keep an eye on your symptoms. If you notice that you are starting to feel faint, or are suffering from diarrhoea and abdominal cramps, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
What causes angioedema?
Angioedema can be triggered by a variety of things, including food allergens and genetics, but how does this relate to hayfever?
Well, pollen can be to blame for angioedema too because, upon direct contact, it can sometimes inspire skin irritation. Also, pollen food syndrome can cause problems. Simply put, this is when the immune system becomes hyperactive and starts to recognise pollen proteins as irritants.
Unfortunately, these pollen proteins, known as profilins, can be found in certain types of food. When these foods are digested, it can stimulate acute allergic angioedema which causes the skin tissues to swell, usually within an hour or so of consuming the allergen.
How long does angioedema last?
The symptoms of angioedema are short-lived and tend to diminish within a couple of days. If the lips remain swollen for longer than this, though, you should speak to your doctor.
How to treat swollen lips
When the lips are swollen, most people will be advised to take over-the-counter anti-histamines to reduce the swelling. However, these can come with side effects such as drowsiness so herbal and natural remedies make a good alternative.
1. Drink plenty of water
Water is extremely important if you are trying to fight inflammation as dehydration risks making the problem worse. It is thought that there is a relationship between histamine production and dehydration, with your production of histamine increasing as you become more and more dehydrated. On top of this, the skin will become far more vulnerable to swelling if it is not properly hydrated.
2. Coconut oil
Coconut oil really is amazing, not just for cooking, but also for your skin! That’s because it contains natural anti-inflammatory properties, as well as an emollient, which helps to keep your lips hydrated and prevent any lasting damage.
Covering your lips in a little coconut oil can also help to protect them from allergens such as pollen as the oil provides a natural barrier. I’d even recommend spreading a little on the inside of your nostrils too, just to keep pollen from entering your respiratory system!
3. Cold/warm compress
A cold or a warm compress can work wonders when combatting inflammation. A cold compress can be useful for reducing swelling, whereas a warm compress is better for stimulating your circulation, helping to prevent blood from collecting in the affected areas. It’s important that you use these compresses in moderation, though, as prolonged exposure to either hot or cold temperatures may do more damage than good.
Turmeric is more than just a brightly-coloured spice as it is naturally rich in anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities, making it a great option for reducing any swelling.
Turmeric can be combined with water to make a paste – just be aware that a little turmeric can go a long way. I sometimes mix turmeric with coconut oil to make a super-nutritious face mask. This is chockfull of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties!
5. Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets!
Our Pollinosan Luffa Hayfever Tablets are great for warding off the various symptoms associated with hayfever. Each tablet is specially prepared using a blend of 7 tropical herb extracts and is 100% non-drowsy.
If you suffer from a blocked or runny nose, you could also try our Luffa Nasal Spray, which works to restore fluid to your nasal passages and cleanse them of any hayfever-causing allergens.
Originally published 11 July 2017 (updated on 10 May 2019)