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Facial Numbness Symptoms

Facial numbness is the inability to feel normal sensations on all or part of the face. This phenomenon may be quite noticeable to you and somewhat alarming. However, it is possible for facial numbness to be first discovered by a medical provider using objects such as a cotton ball to test sensation. Facial numbness can occur in isolation, but there may be other areas of the body with abnormal sensation or additional symptoms. The numbness can develop gradually or suddenly, depending on the cause.

Facial sensation depends on signals sent by a large cranial nerve located in the face called the trigeminal nerve [1]. These signals travel through the brainstem and are interpreted in the brain. A problem in the trigeminal nerve, the pathway from the nerve to the brain through the brainstem, or the brain itself can contribute to facial numbness [2].

Characteristics

Symptoms that can be associated with facial numbness depending on the underlying cause include:

Facial Numbness Causes

Causes of facial numbness are described below from most to least common, including neurological abnormalities, injuries, other medical conditions, or a psychiatric cause [3].

Neurological abnormalities

Causes of facial numbness related to neurological abnormalities may include [4]:

  • Stroke: A stroke (decreased blood flow caused by a clot or bleeding) in the brain or brainstem can cause sudden-onsetone-sided facial numbness. Other symptoms will also be present, such as weakness, clumsiness, and numbness in the arm and leg. The affected limbs will be on the same or opposite side of the facial numbness depending on the location of the stroke.
  • Tumors: A benign or malignant tumor affecting the sensory pathway for facial sensation can cause numbness. This can occur with a tumor in the head and neck area, brain, or one of the cranial nerves near the trigeminal nerve. Depending on the location of the tumor, other possible symptoms include a spinning sensation, hearing loss, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Other neurological disorders: Trigeminal neuralgia, a condition caused by damage to the trigeminal nerve, can cause facial numbness [2]. Numbness will be followed by an episode of severe facial pain. Disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS) can also lead to facial numbness, often with other neurological symptoms present.

Injuries

Injuries that can lead to facial numbness may include the following.

  • Facial trauma: A fracture or swelling after a facial injury can cause numbness.
  • Surgery: Rarely, an injury to the trigeminal nerve during facial surgery (such as a facelift) can produce facial numbness.

Other medical conditions

Other medical conditions that can lead to facial numbness may include:

  • Low calcium: An abnormally low level of calcium (hypocalcemia) in the body can cause neurological symptoms including numbness or tingling around the mouth.
  • Scleroderma: Facial numbness is one of the most common neurological complications of the connective tissue disease scleroderma. Tingling and pain are usually also present.

Psychiatric cause

A feeling of numbness in the body, including in the face, can be perceived in the absence of a physical cause. A physical exam from a medical provider can usually determine whether facial numbness is psychological in nature.

6 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced facial numbness. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Panic or Anxiety Attack(s)

    Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden feelings of intense fear or stress without true danger. Symptoms usually peak and then decrease within minutes. One may feel as if they are losing control or have physical symptoms like sweating or a racing heart. A panic attack can be a very scary experience and should be taken seriously.

    Depending on recurrence

    Rarity:
    Common
    Symptoms that always occur with panic or anxiety attack(s):
    anxiety or anxiety/panic attacks
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Bell's Palsy

    Bell's palsy (facial palsy) causes sudden weakness in facial muscles and makes half of the face appear to droop. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face or may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

    Weeks to 6 months

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    arm weakness, facial numbness, arm weakness, hearing loss, pain on one side of the face
    Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy:
    face weakness, weakness in one side of the face
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Nose or Sinus Tumor

    A tumor in the nose or one of the sinuses occurs due to abnormal growth of the cells lining the inside of the nose and sinuses. These tumors are rare and can cause symptoms like congestion or blockage, nose bleeds and sometimes facial pain or swelling.

    Prognosis depends on the size of tumor and whether or not is has spread to other structures like lymph nodes.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, congestion, vision changes, ear fullness/pressure, ear pain
    Symptoms that never occur with nose or sinus tumor:
    improving congestion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  4. 4.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  5. 5.Multiple Sclerosis (Ms)

    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is involved in carrying nerve signals so this damage causes interruptions in nerve signaling.

    This is a lifelong condition; however, treatment may be beneficial.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    severe fatigue, constipation, numbness, decreased sex drive, signs of optic neuritis
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

    Shingles (herpes zoster) is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face. Rashes or blisters appear anywhere from one to 14 days later. If shingles appears on the face, it may affect vision or hearing.

    An episode usually lasts 2-4 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    symptoms of infection, dizziness, fatigue, rash, diarrhea
    Symptoms that always occur with shingles (herpes zoster):
    grouped rash, rash
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Facial Numbness Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Going to a medical provider for diagnosis and treatment of a medical condition is the best way to approach facial numbness. Home treatments are unlikely to be effective.

Seek immediate treatment or call 911 for the following

Some causes of facial numbness can be dangerous and require immediate evaluation and treatment, such as:

  • Sudden, widespread numbness and/or weakness: Sudden-onset facial numbness along with other neurological symptoms such as numbness and/or weakness in other parts of the body require urgent care.
  • Seizures or difficulty breathing: These symptoms are consistent with a severely low calcium level, which requires treatment to prevent cardiac arrhythmias and other complications.
  • Facial injury: This requires urgent care when occurring with numbness, disfigurement, difficulty breathing, or any other significant symptoms.

When to schedule an appointment

In some cases, even if emergency care isn't necessary, you may need evaluation and treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Your facial numbness does not resolve or gets worse.
  • You are experiencing episodes of facial pain along with numbness.
  • You have gradually developed other neurological symptoms such as a spinning sensation, hearing loss, visual changes, or weakness.
  • You have enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.

Medical treatments

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your facial numbness [5]:

  • Medication: This can treat an underlying disorder such as trigeminal neuralgia or multiple sclerosis.
  • Therapy: A therapy program can identify and address underlying psychological difficulties that may be contributing to facial numbness.
  • Surgery: Referral for surgical management of a tumor or trigeminal neuralgia that has not responded to other treatments.

FAQs About Facial Numbness

Here are some frequently asked questions about facial numbness.

Can facial numbness be a sign of a stroke?

Numbness on one side of the face can be caused by a stroke. Facial numbness will not be the only symptom if a stroke is the cause. Other possible symptoms include numbness and/or weakness in the arm and leg, which can be on the same side or opposite side from the facial numbness depending on the location of the stroke. You should seek emergency treatment if you notice sudden onset of facial numbness, especially if you have any other neurological symptoms.

Why is my face numb only on one side?

Many causes of numbness will affect only one side of the face. A stroke occurs on one side of the brain or brainstem, so only one side of the face is affected by sensory abnormalities. Each side of the face has a trigeminal nerve, which communicates facial sensation to the brain; an abnormality of one of the trigeminal nerves will affect sensation only on the corresponding side. A tumor will cause facial numbness on only one side, while an injury could cause numbness on one or both sides depending on the location.

Will facial numbness eventually go away?

Many causes of facial numbness will resolve on their own or with treatment. Numbness after an injury will likely go away as healing occurs. If multiple sclerosis is the cause, sensation will typically return to normal, but treatment will be required to help prevent future neurological abnormalities. Numbness following a stroke may resolve over time, but the prognosis is unpredictable.

What causes facial numbness after an injury?

Numbness of part of the face can occur after a severe trauma, such as a sports injury or car accident. If the numbness starts directly after the injury, it may be caused by nerve damage that occurred via a fracture of one of the facial bones. Facial numbness that develops gradually after an injury is more likely caused by post-traumatic swelling.

Can facial numbness be a sign of cancer?

Rarely, cancer can be the cause of facial numbness. The trigeminal nerve, which communicates sensory signals from the face to the brain, can be damaged by a tumor of the head and neck or a neighboring nerve. A brain tumor can also cause loss of facial sensation. Facial numbness is unlikely to be the only sign of a tumor: other possible symptoms include hearing loss, a spinning sensation, and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Facial Numbness

  • Q.Have you lost some or all of your sense of taste?
  • Q.Have you been experiencing any muscle weakness that is symmetrical (equal on both sides of your body)?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric issue, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder?
  • Q.Are you having any difficulty speaking?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our facial numbness symptom checker to find out more.

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Facial Numbness Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced facial numbness have also experienced:

    • 5% Headache
    • 4% Hand Tingling
    • 2% Fatigue
  • People who have experienced facial numbness had symptoms persist for:

    • 56% Less Than a Day
    • 19% Less Than a Week
    • 13% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced facial numbness were most often matched with:

    • 36% Panic or Anxiety Attack(s)
    • 36% Nose or Sinus Tumor
    • 27% Bell's Palsy
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Smith JH, Cutrer FM. Numbness Matters: A Clinical Review of Trigeminal Neuropathy. Cephalalgia. 2011;31(1):1131-1144. NCBI Link
  2. Trigeminal Neuralgia Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018. NINDS Link
  3. Blahd WH, Husney A, Romito K. Facial Problems, Noninjury. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated November 20, 2017. UofM Health Link
  4. Cohen J, Fadul C, Jenkyn L, Ward T. Disorders of the Nervous System. Dartmouth College. Published 2008. Dartmouth LInk
  5. Trigeminal Neuralgia. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link