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Causes of a Swollen or Puffy Face & How to Find Relief

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The most common causes of facial swelling arise from a dental or skin infection, or an allergic reaction which can also cause hives, wheezing, and vomiting. Other causes of face swelling include dehydration, hormonal imbalance, or physical trauma to the face. Read below for more causes, related symptoms, and how to reduce swelling in the face.

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Is your face puffy or swollen? common symptoms explained:

A swollen face has many different causes, ranging from dehydration to a life-threatening allergic reaction. Infections in the eyes, mouth, or salivary glands are other common causes. If you're having an allergic reaction, you may also experience hives, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. You can treat some minor causes of facial swelling at home, while infectious or allergic causes of facial swelling require treatment from a doctor. If you have significant facial swelling or trouble breathing, seek emergency care.

Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen face

If you're experiencing a swollen face, it is also likely to experience the following.

What causes facial swelling?

Two common causes of facial swelling are infections or allergic reactions. Typically, an infection will cause asymmetric facial swelling. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when to see a physician.

Infectious causes

Infectious causes of a swollen face may be due to the following.

  • Dental or mouth infection: Infections in the teeth, gums, or behind the tonsils can cause facial swelling. Typically, swelling from an infection in one of these locations will occur on one side.
  • Salivary gland infection: Infection in one of the glands that produce saliva can also cause swelling, typically in the lower half of the face. Swelling from an infected gland will occur on one side.
  • Skin infection: Infection of the skin on the face can cause redness and swelling. This type of infection could involve one part of the face or the entire face.
  • Eye infection: Bacterial or viral eye infections can cause swelling to one eyelid or both eyelids and the area of the face surrounding the eyes.

Allergies

Your face may swell due to different allergies you may or may not be aware of.

  • Food allergy: Allergic reactions to food can present with swelling to the face, lips, or tongue. The reaction may also cause hives, wheezing or respiratory distress, vomiting or diarrhea. If you are concerned about an allergic reaction, seek emergency medical attention.
  • Medication allergy: Allergic reactions to medications can present with swelling to face, lips, or tongue. The reaction may also cause hives, wheezing, respiratory distress, vomiting, or diarrhea. Sometimes people develop allergic reactions to medications they have been taking for a long time. If you are concerned about an allergic reaction, seek emergency medical attention.
  • Environmental allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust, or other environmental factors can cause facial swelling along with running nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes. These allergies are not usually life-threatening. However, if you are having trouble breathing, seek emergency medical attention.

Other causes

Other various causes of facial swelling may include the following.

  • Pregnancy: Edema (swelling) is common in pregnancy. Many pregnant women experience swelling in the hands, feet, ankles, and legs.
  • Dehydration: If you are severely dehydrated, the tissues of the face may retain water, leading to swelling or puffiness.
  • Medical conditions: Some medical conditions, particularly hormonal imbalances, can cause facial swelling. Some other possible symptoms include fatigue, heat intolerance, dry skin, weight gain, and constipation.
  • Inflammation: Trauma to the face or head can cause inflammation and swelling. Additionally, a lack of sleep or consuming a lot of alcohol can make the face look puffy or swollen.

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

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

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

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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

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

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

Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder that occurs when there is too much of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It can be caused by taking steroid medications commonly prescribed for asthma or arthritis, or by problems with the glands in the body that are involved in creating cortisol. Symptoms can vary from person to person but often include easy bruising, a "hump" on the back, and stretch marks. Fatigue, large stomach, red round face, and high blood sugar may also occur.

You should consider visiting a medical professional in the next week or two to discuss your symptoms. Cushing syndrome can be evaluated with a review of your symptoms and medical history, as well as blood tests. Treatment depends on the cause of your condition. If caused by steroid medication, you may be instructed to lower the dosage slowly over time. If caused by issues with your glands, surgery, radiation, or medication may be an option.

Cellulitis

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

Angioedema

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.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea or vomiting, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), diarrhea, swollen face, hand swelling

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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

Acute postinfectious glomerulonephritis

The kidneys are a pair of important organs that lie near the spine whose function is to filter blood. There are about 1 million glomeruli in each kidney, which are tiny balls of thin blood vessels where there filtration takes place. After an infection anywhere in the body, especially a streptococcal infection (strep throat), these glomeruli may become inflamed and causing a type of kidney infection called postinfectious glomerulonephritis.

You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. Prescription medications are needed to take care of the inflammation as well as any infection if it is still present. The kidney is an important organ and needs to be taken care of as soon as possible!

Swollen face quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your swollen face.

Take swollen face quiz

How to reduce swelling in the face

Most causes of facial swelling symptoms require an evaluation from a doctor. If facial swelling is due to minor trauma to the face or dehydration, you can treat it at home. However, infectious and allergic causes of facial swelling may require medications or further testing to manage symptoms.

When it is an emergency

Seek emergency treatment if you experience the following.

  • You have significant swelling to the face, lips, tongue
  • You also have hives and are wheezing, vomiting, or having difficulty breathing

At-home treatments

You can try the following remedies at home to address your facial swelling.

  • Ice: If the swelling is due to trauma or inflammation, place ice packs on the face to reduce the swelling.
  • Hydration: A swollen or puffy face might be a sign of severe dehydration. Hydrating with water may help.
  • Time: If the swelling is due to lack of sleep or too much alcohol, it may take time and rest for the swelling to go down.

When to see a doctor

If your face swelling worsens or persists, or home remedies do not help, see a doctor. He or she may recommend the following treatment options.

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor may provide antibiotics for a bacterial infection.
  • Dental referral: If a dental infection is the cause of the swelling, a doctor may refer you to a dentist.
  • Drainage: If an infection in the mouth is the cause of the swelling, it is possible that a doctor will need to drain the infection using a needle.
  • Blood tests: If your doctor suspects a medical condition such as a hormone imbalance, he or she may order blood tests to check your hormone levels.
  • Pregnancy test: If you have missed your period, your doctor may order a pregnancy test.
  • Intravenous medication (IV): For facial swelling that occurs as part of an allergic reaction, your doctor will likely administer medication through an IV as soon as possible to reverse the symptoms.

FAQs about swollen face

Why is my face swollen in the morning?

Multiple factors contribute to facial swelling or puffiness, such as hydration or hormone levels that fluctuate. Facial swelling may be a sign of something more serious, including infection or allergic reaction. Try drinking water, getting more sleep, or putting ice or cool compresses on the face to reduce facial swelling in the morning.

Why is my face swollen after drinking?

Facial swelling after a night of drinking is likely largely due to dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, which leads to dehydration. Dehydrated skin may retain water and cause facial swelling. Try alternating alcoholic drinks with water to prevent morning puffiness. Keep in mind, facial swelling has many causes, and persistent facial swelling could be a sign of something more severe. Other causes of facial swelling include infections, allergic reactions, or facial trauma.

Can a swollen face be a sign of pregnancy?

Facial swelling, as well as swelling in the hands, feet, or ankles, can all be signs of pregnancy. Swelling, or edema, is a common symptom among pregnant women. Edema of the hands, feet, and ankles typically increases during pregnancy. However, facial edema is common earlier in pregnancy. Again, facial swelling can be a sign of many other things, including inflammation, dehydration, infections, allergic reactions, or facial trauma.

Can sunburn cause a swollen face?

Sunburn can lead to facial pain, swelling, or blistering. However, there are many other causes of facial swelling, including infections, facial trauma, or allergic reactions. Cool compresses may soothe a sunburn. If you have significant pain, swelling, or blistering from a burn, seek medical attention.

Why is one side of my face swollen?

Swelling to one side of the face has many possible causes, including infections, trauma, or tumors. Infections in the mouth or salivary glands may cause swelling to one side of the lower face. Infection in the eye could cause swelling on one side of the face near the eye. Infections that cause facial swelling may require treatment from a doctor.

Questions your doctor may ask about swollen 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.

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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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