Can hayfever cause your lips to swell?

Louise Baillie
Hayfever Advisor
Ask Louise

11 July 2017

Why are my lips swollen?

If you suffer from hayfever, you may be anticipating symptoms like a runny nose or a dry, tickly cough but swollen lips? This is a more unusual symptom and quite often it can be a cause for alarm because it is so unexpected.

Hayfever is essentially an allergy to pollen, though, and when your immune system identifies pollen as an irritant it will release a wave of inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals can linger and cause odema, or swelling in your skin tissues. In most cases this type of swelling occurs around your eyes but sometimes it can also affect your lips too!

Nevertheless, many still worry that what they are experiencing is a sign of anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause your throat, tongue and lips to swell, hindering your ability to breathe.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis, as I have mentioned, is a serious allergic reaction that is potentially life-threatening. If you are suffering from anaphylactic shock, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible! It can come on very suddenly but it is often accompanied by symptoms that are easy to recognise, such as:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Wheezing
  • Flushed skin
  • Swelling of the throat and mouth
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

If you are not suffering from anaphylaxis (and if you’re taking the time to read this article, you probably aren’t!) the far more likely cause of your swollen lips is angioedema.


What is angioedema?

Angioedema is a type of swelling that takes place beneath the surface of your skin.  When your immune system instigates an inflammatory reaction, chemicals like histamine can cause your blood vessels to swell. Sometimes fluid can escape from these tiny vessels, leaking into your skin tissues.

A couple of common symptoms include:

•    Swelling around the eyes, lips and hands
•    Hives
•    Allergic conjunctivitis

Angioedema frequently appears alongside hives giving rise to the idea that the two conditions are one and the same. However, hives affects the epidermal layer of skin whereas angioedema tends to influence the subcutaneous skin tissues. Angioedema can also appear without hives, although such instances are considered to be rare.

The NHS has estimated that around 1 in 5 will suffer from angioedema at some point of their life but normally it is not a cause for concern.2 In episodes of severe angioedema, though, your 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 suffering from diarrhoea or abdominal cramps, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible.


What causes angioedema?

Angioedema can be triggered by a variety of factors, including food allergens and your genetics but how does this relate to hayfever?

Well, pollen can be to blame for angioedema, sometimes inspiring skin irritation upon direct contact. However, pollen can also increase your chances of developing angioedema in an unexpected way – your food.

This is where pollen food syndrome comes into the equation. Simply put, when your immune system becomes hyperactive it can start to recognise pollen proteins as irritants. Unfortunately these pollen proteins, known as profilins, can also be found in certain types of food.

When you ingest these foods, it can stimulate acute allergic angioedema which can cause your skin tissues to swell, usually within an hour or so of consuming the allergen.

How long does angioedema last?

Normally angioedema does not last long and the symptoms tend to diminish within a couple of days. If they do not and your lips are still swollen, you should speak to your doctor.

How to treat swollen lips

No matter what causes your lips to swell, the truth is that it can really knock your confidence, especially if you are frequently in the public eye.
In most cases, the chances are that you will be advised to take over-the-counter anti-histamines to reduce the swelling. However, below I’ve recommended a few of my favourite natural and herbal remedies to help ease any inflammation and hopefully reduce any visual symptoms.

  • 1 – Avoid allergens:  This may seem like an obvious one but bear with me; when it comes to preventing inflammation things can get tricky - especially if you add pollen food syndrome into the mix. If you suffer from hayfever, you’re probably aware that you should be taking precautions against pollen but if your food is to blame it can become difficult to determine what it is specifically that is triggering a reaction. The best thing you can do is try to recognise certain patterns – food products such as tomatoes, oranges and celery can be associated with grass pollen, which is responsible for 95% of hayfever sufferers’ symptoms so it might be worth avoiding these! You could try cooking your veg instead of eating it raw – we have plenty of delicious soup recipes if you’re looking for ideas!
  • 2 – Drink plenty of water: Water is extremely important if you are trying to fight inflammation. If you become dehydrated you can risk making things a lot worse for yourself. It is suggested by some that there is a relationship between histamine production and dehydration, with your production of histamine increasing as you become more and more dehydrated.3 Not to mention that your skin will be far more vulnerable if it is not properly hydrated, making it more susceptible to damage and swelling
  • 3 – Coconut oil: Coconut oil really is amazing, not just for cooking with but also for your skin! It’s a natural anti-inflammatory agent as well as an emollient, helping to keep your lips hydrated and preventing 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!
  • 4 – Cold/warm compress: Either 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 handier for stimulating your circulation, helping to prevent blood from collecting in the affected area. 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
  • 5 – Turmeric: Not just a brightly coloured spice, turmeric is naturally rich in anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities, making it a great option for reducing any swelling. You can mix this ingredient into a paste by combining with water – 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 that’s chockfull of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties!


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