Why Are My Lips Numb?

Your lips are among the most touch-sensitive parts of your body. But suddenly, they’ve gone numb and rubbery -- a bit like when your foot or arm falls to sleep. What gives?

If you’ve had your mouth numbed at the dentist or doctor's, it's not surprising. But other things can cause you to lose feeling or get a tingle in your lips. This includes allergies, cold sores, cold weather, and certain medical conditions.

Oral Allergy Syndrome

Oral allergy syndrome (OAS) happens when you react to a plant-based food, like a raw veggie, fresh fruit, or a seed such as fennel or sunflower. Your lips might prickle or swell.

You’re more likely to have OAS if you have a nose allergy to pollen. The condition is sometimes called pollen-food allergy syndrome.

Other Possible Symptoms

  • Your tongue, throat, or roof of your mouth swells and itches.
  • Your uvula (the "punching bag" of tissue that hangs in the back of your throat) bulges.
  • Your throat tightens.

A reaction usually happens within a few minutes after you've had contact with the food. It can go away quickly or linger for hours. OAS is rarely serious.

What to Do

  • Avoid trigger foods.
  • Rinse traces of the food from your lips and mouth with water.
  • Call 911 if you drool or find it hard to swallow.

Cold Sores

A cold sore (fever blister) is a patch of blisters that form a crust on or near your lips. A strain of the herpes simplex virus causes them. You can get one if you kiss an infected person or share things like forks, towels, and razors with them. You might feel a tingle on your lips for a day or so before an outbreak happens. This goes away when the next phase, a hard sore patch, appears.

Other Symptoms

If it’s your first outbreak, you might also have:

What to Do

Cold sores generally clear up without treatment. See your doctor if:

  • They come back often.
  • Symptoms are severe.
  • Your eyes get irritated.

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Hypoparathyroidism

This happens when your body doesn’t make enough parathyroid hormone. This chemical manages the calcium and phosphorus levels in your body. Wonky levels can make your lips feel tingly.

It’s rare, but it can happen if your parathyroid glands have been damaged or removed, or you have another disorder. You also can be born with glands that don’t work right.

Other Possible Symptoms

What to Do

  • See your doctor. This condition usually is treated with medications to raise the levels of certain minerals in your body. This may be for life.
  • You may need mineral supplements, often for life.

Multiple Sclerosis

MS is a disease of the central nervous system. It scrambles info between your brain and body, which can cause strange or altered sensations. This can include a numb or prickly feeling in your lips as well as other parts of your face. It can also affect your body, arms, and legs. The feeling can be one of the first signs of MS, and it’s among the most common.

Other Possible Symptoms

What to Do

When linked to MS, lip numbness and the pins-and-needles feeling usually come and go. In the meantime:

  • Take care when you chew so you don’t bite yourself.
  • If it’s severe, your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids.

Raynaud’s Disease

Raynaud’s disease is also called a syndrome or phenomenon. It happens when blood vessels for your arms and legs shrink when you’re cold, excited, or stressed. It’s normal for your body to send blood away from your hands and feet to keep your core warm when it's very cold. But when you have Raynaud's, this also happens at times when it's just a little cold, such as when you hold a cold drink or are in an air-conditioned room. Your lips (and your legs, arms, and fingers) can get tingly and numb, and even turn ghostly pale.

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The exact cause isn’t known. You’re more likely to have it if you live in a cold climate or are female, though. It usually starts before age 30. Raynaud’s can happen on its own, along with chemo treatment, or with another condition such as lupus or scleroderma, a connective tissue disease.

Other Possible Symptoms

  • Skin color changes from white to blue to vivid red, when oxygenated blood rushes back
  • Throbbing or a warm tingle when blood returns

What to Do

Though certain drugs might help in extreme cases, most people are able to manage Raynaud’s on their own. The best ways are:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep stress under control with calming practices like yoga or meditation.
  • Avoid sudden exposure to the cold.

Stroke

Stroke is a disease of the arteries in and leading to the brain. It happens when a blood vessel bursts or gets blocked by a clot. When the brain can’t get the blood and nutrients it needs, brain cells die. It can cause numbness in your mouth and face, especially on one side.

Other Possible Symptoms

  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Face droops on one side
  • Severe headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Vision problems
  • Weakness on one side of your body
  • Confusion
  • A hard time walking

What to Do

Call 911 and get to the hospital right away. Depending on what type of stroke you have, treatment might include:

  • IV drug that dissolves the clot and helps blood flow
  • Mechanical device that traps or breaks up the clot
  • Special clips that support fragile blood vessels
  • Surgery

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on May 09, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Dermatitis: “Oral Allergy Syndrome (Pollen-Food Allergy Syndrome).”

Seattle Children’s Hospital: “Food Allergies.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cold Sore,” “Hypoparathyroidism.”

National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Hypoparathyroidism."

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “What Is MS?” “Numbness or Tingling,” “MS Symptoms.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Raynaud’s Phenomenon.”

Scleroderma Foundation: “What is Scleroderma?”

American Stroke Association: “About Stroke,” “Stroke Symptoms.”

National Stroke Association: “Stroke Treatments.”

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