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What Causes Face Swelling on One Side & How to Find Relief

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Written by Jack Wilkinson, MD.
Fellow, Cornell/Columbia New York Presbyterian Child Psychiatry Program
Last updated April 19, 2024

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Swelling on one side of the face can present itself in different parts of the face like a swollen cheek or eye. Common causes of swelling could be allergy symptoms on one side of the face, a facial injury, or a skin infection. Read below for more information on associated symptoms, other causes, and treatment options on how to reduce facial swelling on one side.

Facial swelling quiz

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Facial swelling on one side explained

Your face is feeling a bit strange, so you quickly find a mirror. Much to your dismay, you realize you're right — one side of your face is swollen. Facial inflammation and swelling can come from many different parts of the face and may vary in size, severity, and level of discomfort.

Common characteristics of swelling on one side of the face

The swelling can also present with the following.

Why is my face swollen on one side?

Swelling, or inflammation, is your body's natural way of responding to an insult and letting you know that something is wrong. Since there are many organs and structures on the face, the source of the swelling can vary widely. You and your doctor can look at factors like the quality and location of the swelling as well as any potential triggers or injuries to determine the underlying cause.

Irritation-related causes

Your face may swell on one side due to environmental irritants, such as the following.

  • Insect bites: Bug bites are common, and for some people, they can become big, red, itchy, and swollen.
  • Plants: Venturing into wooded areas can be fun, but it also puts you at risk for contact with irritating plants like poison ivy or poison oak.
  • Allergies: Common allergies to plants, pets, or other irritants can result in facial swelling at times.

Infectious causes

Infectious causes of experiencing swelling on one side of your face may include the following.

  • Skin infection: Bacteria can invade the skin surface and cause uncomfortable redness and swelling.
  • Pimples: Pimples occur when bacteria invade tiny pores in the skin, leading to infection and swelling.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: Lymph nodes store immune cells and can become painful and swollen when fighting an infection.
  • Swollen glands: These glands produce important products like tears and saliva, and they may become swollen if infected or otherwise irritated.
  • Dental problem: An infection in the mouth, such as a tooth abscess, can lead to pain in the mouth and swelling that is visible to the outside.

Other causes

Other, less common causes of facial swelling on one side may include the following.

  • Cancer: In rare cases, certain types of cancer show up as facial masses. They can grow and spread quickly.
  • Trauma: Taking a blow to the face can be uncomfortable and may lead to swelling and discomfort because of underlying injuries to the soft tissues or other areas.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Skin abscess

A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.

Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.

If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.

Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash

Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Salivary duct stone (sialolithiasis)

A salivary duct stone is the most common disorder of the salivary glands (where you make spit). They can range in size from tiny particles to stones that are several centimeters in length.

You can try treating this at home and going to the doctor if things don't work. You can stay well hydrated, apply warm compresses, and massage or "milk" the duct with the stone in it. Another tip would be to suck on lemon drops or other hard tart candy (called sialogogues, which promote salivary secretions) throughout the day. Pain is treated with NSAIDs like Ibuprofen. If things do not get better or you cannot find the stone, it's best to go to your doctor.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, swollen jaw, painful face swelling, spontaneous jaw pain, painful jaw swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit


Mumps or "the mumps" is a viral infection for which most people have been vaccinated when they were a child. Though in rare cases, even vaccinated people can still get sick. Symptoms of the are swelling of the parotid gland (this gland produces your spit and is located in the cheek), fever, face pain and a sore throat.

Since this infection is caused by a virus, treatment with antibiotics is not helpful. It usually resolves on its own. You can seek advice over the phone or in a retail clinic to have other infections ruled out and get symptomatic treatment. If you are pregnant and possibly exposed to mumps, you need to call your doctor.

Infection of the salivary duct (sialadenitis)

The ducts that create saliva can be infected by bacteria and is typically found after surgery in the mouth and in the elderly that take medications that slow saliva production.

You should visit your primary care physician or an urgent care today. In the most minor situation, you would need antibiotics for 10 days while the doctors identify the type of bug it is. In more severe cases, you might need to go to the hospital for antibiotics given through the blood.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, swelling on one side of the face, pain on one side of the face, swollen jaw

Urgency: Hospital emergency room


Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptoms of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bruise of the face

A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the back are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

You can treat this at home with rest (exercise as tolerated) and ice (10-20 minutes at a time).

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swelling on one side of the face, head or face injury, painful face swelling, warm and red face swelling, face bruise

Symptoms that always occur with bruise of the face: head or face injury

Urgency: Self-treatment


Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.

Allergic reactions can be dangerous and therefore you should be brought to the nearest Emergency Room for evaluation and treatment. Call for an ambulance if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: fainting, vomiting, trouble swallowing, tightness in throat or trouble breathing.

Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)

When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergic reaction, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.

You should visit a physician right away to discuss the allergy and its severity, if you have not already been diagnosed. Your doctor may order an allergy screen to see what other substances produce the response. If you begin to feel tightness in the throat or difficulty breathing, get to an ER as soon as possible.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness

Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor

ACE Inhibitors are drugs used to prevent, treat or improve symptoms in conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure and diabetes. In rare cases, these drugs can cause an allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, swollen face, trouble swallowing, swollen lips, swollen tongue

Symptoms that never occur with swelling caused by use of an ace inhibitor: hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

When and how to seek treatment for swelling on one side of the face

Most causes of swelling on the face are not serious and will resolve within a matter of days. There are a number of tricks you can try at home to address your symptoms. If the problem is especially severe or persists for some time, see a physician.

At-home treatments

The following treatment options may soothe some of your symptoms.

  • Don't scratch: While you may feel a strong urge to touch, scratch, or pick at the area of swelling, this never helps and can introduce bacteria to the area that may cause an infection and worsen your symptoms.
  • Ice: Cold temperatures are an easy and natural way to relieve inflammation and itching on the face. Use an ice pack or ice wrapped in a washcloth and apply for several minutes at a time.
  • Antihistamines: Over-the-counter medications like Benadryl, Zyrtec, or Claritin counteract natural substances that cause itching and swelling and may relieve symptoms quickly.
  • Topical creams: There are many anti-itch and antihistamine creams available at your local pharmacy that deliver medication directly to the area of concern.
  • Pain medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) soothe swelling and address discomfort.

When to see a doctor

If at-home treatment is ineffective, see a physician. He or she may recommend the following.

  • Incision and drainage: If an infection is suspected as the underlying cause, a doctor may cut into the area of swelling to release collected pus.
  • Steroids: A short course of medications like prednisone reduce swelling and redness from a wide variety of causes.
  • Antibiotics: A course of antibiotics can treat a bacterial infection.
  • Imaging: A CT scan or MRI helps doctors learn more about the size and distribution of facial masses and are especially helpful if the cause of the mass is not obvious.
  • Biopsy: In this procedure, a small piece of the mass is removed from the face by a needle or other tool and sent to the laboratory for examination under a microscope.

When it is an emergency

Seek help without delay if you have:

  • Rapidly growing swelling
  • Trouble seeing, speaking, or breathing
  • High fevers
  • A history of cancer or of radiation to the face
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Questions your doctor may ask about swelling on one side of the face

  • If you touch the swollen area, is there pain?
  • Did you get hit in the head?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Were you hit or injured anywhere on your face? If so, where?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Hear what 3 others are saying
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Face swellingPosted November 26, 2023 by L.
Chemical allergic reaction 2days ago and my cheek bone area is swollen and sore
Woke up with one side of face swollenPosted June 18, 2021 by D.
Years ago, when I was in my mid-teens, I woke up in the middle of the night and went to the bathroom. I noticed my face felt weird on one side. I turned on the light and looked in the mirror, and to my horror, my face and neck were swollen on that side, almost like I had a goiter or something! I was very scared, so I woke my mother and showed her my face. She didn’t seem worried in the least. She just told me not to worry, to go back to bed and it would be back to normal in the morning. I was still really nervous about it but did as she said. To my surprise, it was just as she said, gone with no trace of swelling. It never happened again. To this day, I still don’t know what caused it.
Random swellingPosted December 30, 2019 by S.
Female aged 30. I have an issue of randomly swelling above left eyebrow. It's not painful. I just feel an initial itch then swell up. Yesterday was the worst. I have been to several doctors, general practitioners, who insists am having allergies. To what, I don't know. I was advised to stop using any makeups and powders on my face, which I obliged, but here I am still swollen. And if it's really an allergy how am I even supposed to avoid it if I don't even know what it is. The same side of the face does have some dental work (root canals). A part of me wants to blame that, like I have got to blame something at least. Forgive my English. It's not my first language. My blood work was all clear. I think for me the hardest part is not knowing what is wrong with me. Whether it's life-threatening or not. That's the hardest part. Am refusing to get overly depressed over this problem but am not sure how long I can seriously hold on before it settles in. That's my story.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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