Swelling can be caused by any number of reasons, some more serious than others. Your response should depend upon the actual, or potential cause, as well as a number of other factors. Swelling may occur rapidly, or over time, and can affect any part of the body. Some potential causes of swelling include:
- Allergic reaction
- Breaks and fractures
- Joint issues such as arthritis
- Sprains and strains
- Some forms of cancer, including testicular and bone cancer
In all of these cases, the type, size and rapidity of the swelling can vary and may or may not be accompanied by pain or other symptoms. For instance, a mild allergic reaction may cause mild swelling around the eyes, while a more serious reaction may result in swelling in the throat, eyes, nose, tongue or lips or in an urticarial skin reaction (hives).
When To Seek Advice
The body can often develop lumps and bumps of different shapes and sizes which have no serious cause, but in most cases it is better to be safe than sorry.
Allergic Reactions – In most cases, an allergic reaction can be dealt with at home with antihistamine medication, or with help from a pharmacist. Swelling may occur in the lips, eyes, nose or tongue. In rare cases, however, an allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis, a swelling of the throat and mouth. Anaphylactic shock is life-threatening. If this occurs, dial 999 immediately and follow the advice laid out on the NHS website.
Testicular and breast lumps – In the case of lumps or swellings found around the breasts or testicles, these should always be taken seriously. There is no need to attend A+E or dial 999, but you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. The cause could be something minor, such as a cyst or other harmless growth, but it is always better to have these checked out by a doctor as soon as they are discovered.
Oedema – This is the medical term for swelling caused by a build-up of fluid in any part of the body. Perhaps the most common is peripheral oedema, a swelling of the lower legs and ankles. This can be caused by a wide variety of things, including pregnancy, kidney disease, heart failure, chronic lung disease, the contraceptive pill, and liver disease. Depending upon the cause, and whether or not the cause is known, it is unlikely that you would need to attend A+E or dial 999 if the swelling is caused by any of the above. It is advisable to see your GP if the cause is unknown, or the symptoms worsen or continue for an extended period.
Oedema may also occur following an injury resulting in fractures, sprains or strains. If a person is suffering swelling following an accident, it may be necessary to take them to A+E. In the case of serious injury, dial 999.
If you are suffering from any swelling of which you do not know the cause, you may be able to speak to your pharmacist or call NHS Direct on 111. Trained nurses can advise you on possible causes and treatments, and they will be able to tell you whether you will need to see a doctor or attend A+E.
In the majority of cases, the causes of swelling are relatively mild and can be treated with medication at home. Seeking advice from a GP is advisable in some cases, particularly if the cause is unknown. Anaphylactic shock is a serious emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
For more information on what to do in other out of hours medical situations, please see the other articles on our blog.