Read below about pain on one side of the face, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your pain on one side of the face from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Pain on One Side of the Face Symptoms

Sensation in the face is controlled by the trigeminal nerve, the fifth and largest cranial nerve of the body, and its many branches [3]. There are many different components of the face — from muscles and bones to arteries and glands — that can become disrupted, damaged or injured, resulting in facial pain that can be debilitating and sometimes difficult to resolve [1].

Characteristics

Pain on one side of the face can vary in quality. Depending on the cause, your facial pain may feel:

  • Sharp or Dull
  • Burning or Aching
  • Constant or Intermittent
  • Localized or Generalized
  • Electric/shock-like

Other symptoms

Since the quality and severity of facial pain can take many forms, it may also be difficult to characterize symptoms that may be associated with the pain as well. Often people with one-sided facial pain may also experience:

Regardless of the combination of symptoms, one-sided facial pain is often unbearable and necessitates an appointment with a physician in order to properly treat and diagnose symptoms.

Pain on One Side of the Face Causes Overview

The causes of one-sided facial pain are extremely broad and varied given the many components of the face that can become damaged, injured or inflamed. Though the breadth of this problem can feel overwhelming, causes of one-sided facial pain can be grouped into the following categories.

Neurologic

Neurologic causes of pain on one side of the face may include the following.

  • Neuropathic: The word neuropathic refers to a disruption in nerve functioning [2]. One-sided facial pain can be caused by malfunction of the trigeminal nerve [3]. In most cases, the exact mechanism causing the trigeminal nerve to malfunction is never diagnosed, but there are many diagnosable causes of trigeminal nerve dysfunction that this article will also discuss in depth.
  • Central: Central neurologic causes are those related to lesions or dysfunction in the central nervous system. Such pain can often happen after strokes or be attributed to conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Causes such as headaches and migraines can also be associated with one-sided facial pain. For example, people who suffer from migraines may feel an aura (a visual or sensory warning sign) on one side of the face before a migraine or a migraine may affect only one side of the face.

Infection

Infection-related causes of pain on one side of the face may include the following.

  • Bacterial: Many bacteria can affect parts of the head such as the teeth and sinuses and indirectly cause one-sided facial pain. For example, a bacterial infection of a tooth causing an abscess can result in swelling and discomfort in the face. Bacterial infection of the eye can cause pain that radiates to include the face. Furthermore, specific bacteria such as the bacteria causing Lyme disease can affect nerves of the face resulting in one-sided facial pain.
  • Viral: Certain viruses have a propensity for infecting and attacking the nerves of the face. Herpes zoster, the virus that causes shingles, can lay dormant in the trigeminal nerve and resurface to cause a painful, blistering rash of the face. Furthermore, the pain can recur even after the rash is treated and goes away in a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia [6]. In addition, the same parts of the face that bacteria can infect, especially the sinuses and eyes, viruses can also infect and cause one-side face pain.

Structural

Structural causes of pain on one side of the face may include the following.

  • Musculoskeletal: Pain and dysfunction in the muscles that control chewing and movement of the jaw can result in debilitating one-sided facial pain that is easily triggered by common actions such as eating breakfast or yawning.
  • Obstruction: Many conditions may obstruct or put direct pressure on the trigeminal nerve to cause pain or nerve dysfunction [4]. For example, the presence of a salivary stone that obstructs the salivary gland may cause facial swelling that puts pressure on the trigeminal nerve causing pain.

Traumatic

Trauma-related causes of pain on one side of the face may include the following.

  • Iatrogenic: Iatrogenic is a term that describes a problem caused by medical intervention or treatment. Direct injury to the trigeminal nerve due to surgical trauma or treatment for the trigeminal neuralgia can result in a condition called Anesthesia Dolorosa (painful, post-traumatic trigeminal nerve dysfunction) that is characterized by one-sided facial or oral pain.
  • Other injury: It is important to remember that one-sided facial pain can also arise due to direct injury to the face that may result in a fracture or bruise. Large bruises and deformities are a clear cause of any facial pain you be experiencing, but also take note of any smaller cuts or lesions on the face that could be responsible for your symptoms.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Pain on One Side of the Face

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced pain on one side of the face. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder

    The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located in front of the ear, and it connects the jaw to the side of the head. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is a painful condition which can be caused by excess tension in jaw mucles, faulty alignment between upper and lower teeth, arthritis in the joint, or injury of the jaw or face.

    Outcome is highly case-dependent.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck
    Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder:
    pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.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.

    Prognosis is good if you get treatment early, very poor if not. 78% of people die if treatment is not started in time.

    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
  5. 5.Sinus Headache

    Sinus headaches are very common. When compared to a normal headache, this pain is generally around the eyes, sinuses, and upper cheeks.

    A few days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, headache that worsens when head moves, facial fullness or pressure, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, sinus pain
    Symptoms that always occur with sinus headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with sinus headache:
    fever, being severely ill, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Pain on One Side of the Face Checker

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  6. 6.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Cellulitis

    Facial cellulitis is a skin infection that typically comes from other parts of the face like the mouth or the sinuses and needs antibiotic treatment. Symptoms can be pain, redness, warmth and swelling of the affected area.

    Dependent on severity of infection

    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
  8. 8.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Carotid Artery Dissection

    A carotid artery dissection is the tearing of the walls of the carotid arteries, which deliver blood to the brain from the aorta. This is a medical emergency.

    About 10% have recurrence

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, history of headaches, steady headache, neck pain on one side, headache near one temple
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  10. 10.Bruise of the Face

    A bruise is an area of skin discoloration. A bruise occurs when small blood vessels break and leak their contents into the soft tissue beneath the skin.

    1-2 weeks

    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

Pain on One Side of the Face Treatments and Relief

Treatment for your facial pain will most likely require a healthcare professional. Make an appointment with your physician in order to receive a diagnosis and get appropriate treatment. Depending on the diagnosis, your physician may recommend the following treatment options:

  • Anticonvulsants: Many anticonvulsant medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or carbamazepine (Tegretol), more commonly used for seizures, are also used to combat nerve pain.
  • Antibiotics: If your facial pain is due to bacterial causes, your physician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic medication to combat your symptoms. Viral causes will not resolve with antibiotics, and your physician will most likely suggest supportive remedies if that is the case.
  • Surgery: There are surgical procedures that can destroy nerve fibers in the face to reduce pain symptoms, especially for the neurological causes of facial pain. Talk with your physician about this option and assess if it is the best option for you.

FAQs About Pain on One Side of the Face

Here are some frequently asked questions about pain on one side of the face.

Can stress cause pain on one side of the face?

Stress can be an important and powerful trigger for many of the causes discussed above. For example, in situations of high stress, some viral infections can be triggered and resurface such as the herpes zoster virus.

Can headaches cause pain on one side of the face?

Yes, primary headachesare considered a common cause of pain on one side of the face. Many types of headaches such as migraines and cluster headaches often present initially in the face.

Why do I only have pain on one side of the face?

Your pain is focused on one side of your face because the structure — either a nerve, artery, muscle, etc. — is affected, damaged or inflamed on that particular side and not the other.

Does anxiety cause pain on one side of the face?

Similarly to stress, anxiety may be a cause of one-sided facial pain for some individuals. Anxiety can quickly escalate into stress and cause similar symptoms/sequelae.

What are some things I can do to help alleviate my symptoms of pain on one side of my face?

In addition to treatment approaches that your physician prescribes, there are many helpful things you can do at home in order to help with your pain. Some people find low-impact exercise, yoga, creative visualization, aromatherapy, or meditation are helpful in achieving some resolution. Some people find therapy or counseling to be helpful in managing the feelings of isolation and depression that are often associated with chronic one-sided facial pain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Pain on One Side of the Face

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our pain on one side of the face symptom checker to find out more.

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Pain on One Side of the Face Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced pain on one side of the face have also experienced:

    • 6% Swelling on One Side of the Face
    • 5% Headache
    • 5% Swollen Face
  • People who have experienced pain on one side of the face had symptoms persist for:

    • 38% Less Than a Week
    • 37% Less Than a Day
    • 12% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced pain on one side of the face were most often matched with:

    • 50% Acute Bacterial Sinusitis
    • 37% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
    • 12% Acute Viral Sinusitis
  • 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. Chichorro JG, Porreca F, Sessle B. Mechanisms of craniofacial pain. Cephalalgia. 2017;37(7):613-626. PubMed Link
  2. Williams CG, Dellon AL, Rosson GD. Management of chronic facial pain. Craniomaxillofac Trauma Reconstr. 2009;2(2):67-76. NCBI Link
  3. Sanders RD. The Trigeminal (V) and Facial (VII) Cranial Nerves. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(1):13-16. NCBI Link
  4. Trigeminal Neuralgia Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published June 2013. NINDS Link
  5. Trigeminal Neuralgia. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link
  6. Sampathkumar P, Drage LA, Martin DP. Herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. Mayo Clin Proc. 2009;84(3):274-80. NCBI Link
  7. Tolosa Hunt Syndrome. National Organization for Rare Disorders. NORD Link