What Causes Face Swelling?

Medically Reviewed By Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
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Swelling in the face is a fairly common symptom. Face swelling has various causes, which range from medical conditions to allergies. Most of the causes of face swelling are not serious or life threatening. In some cases, though, swelling of the face is a symptom of anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction. This is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate care.

This article explains some of the causes of face swelling.

Man looking toward camera holding hand over right side of his face
1388795656 Maskot/Getty Images

Actinomycosis

Actinomycosis is a rare bacterial infection. It happens when the bacteria that is naturally in your body gets into the lining of areas like your mouth or your gut. The facial area is one part of the body that can be affected by actinomycosis.

When actinomycosis does affect the face, it is typically due to:

Symptoms of actinomycosis in the facial area include:

  • lumps or swelling in your cheeks or neck
  • pus that leaks from small holes in your skin
  • difficulty chewing

Healthcare professionals typically prescribe antibiotics as a treatment for actinomycosis. This will often begin with intravenous (IV) antibiotics in the hospital, followed by further doses of antibiotics at home after you are discharged.

Read about Actinomycetales infections.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction of the outer lining of the eyeball, called the conjunctiva. This is a common allergic reaction that affects around 40% of the population. However, only a small number of those affected by allergic conjunctivitis seek medical care.

Allergic conjunctivitis is generally due to airborne allergens. Symptoms include:

  • swelling or puffiness of the eyelids
  • redness of conjunctiva
  • itching or burning
  • tearing or stringy discharge
  • swelling of the eyeball
  • photosensitivity

Rubbing or itching your eyes can make the symptoms worse. Treatment for allergic conjunctivitis typically includes allergy eye drops or artificial tears. When possible, avoiding the allergen that causes the reaction can also help with the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.

Read more about allergic conjunctivitis.

Angioedema

Angioedema is swelling beneath the skin. It can occur in various areas of the body, including the face. Angioedema is typically due to a reaction to something you are allergic to or a medication.

Generally, it is not serious. However, if it affects the area of your larynx, angioedema can be serious. This can lead to difficulty breathing.

Common areas affected by angioedema include:

  • the area around your eyes
  • lips and tongue
  • hands
  • feet
  • genitals

Along with the swelling, many people experience hives as a symptom of angioedema. Other less common symptoms include:

Treatment for angioedema includes:

  • avoiding the cause of the reaction
  • antihistamines
  • epinephrine auto-injector
  • ceasing the use of medication, only if your doctor instructs you to do so

Read more about angioedema.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction. It can be life threatening. Common causes of anaphylaxis include:

  • food
  • insect bites
  • medications
  • latex

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing, swelling, and tightening of the throat. The symptoms of anaphylaxis can come on suddenly.

Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical care. If you or someone around you experiences anaphylaxis, it is important to call emergency services right away.

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy, and is potentially life threatening. 

Symptoms can come on quickly and include: 

If you or someone around you develops these symptoms, you should: 

  1. Check to see whether they have an epinephrine pen. If they do, read and follow the instructions to dispense the medication.
  2. Dial 911 (or a local emergency number).
  3. Lay them down. If they have vomited, lay them on their side. 
  4. Stay with them until emergency services arrive. 

It is possible for someone to need more than one injection with an epinephrine pen. If symptoms do not begin to clear after 5 minutes, give a second injection if one is available.

Read more about anaphylaxis.

Broken nose

A broken nose, or nasal fracture, is the result of trauma to the nose. It is typically highly painful and may cause your nose to bleed. It can alter the appearance of your face and can also make it difficult to breathe.

Symptoms of a broken nose include:

  • swelling and bruising of the nose and eyelids
  • changes in the shape or appearance of your nose
  • bleeding
  • collection of blood in the septum
  • displaced bone or cartilage
  • pain

Contact your doctor if you have been struck in the nose and believe it may be broken. If your nose is broken but not out of position, the only treatment you may require is to rest and avoid bumping the area.

If your nose is broken badly enough to require repositioning, this can be done in your doctor’s office. However, if your septum has been damaged, you may require general anesthesia in order to reposition it.

Read more about a broken nose.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that is highly common. Common areas for cellulitis to develop are the feet, hands, or legs. However, it can occur anywhere on your body, including the face or neck.

Symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • skin that is swollen and painful
  • redness or discoloration
  • skin that is warm and tender to the touch
  • pitted skin
  • blisters
  • fever or chills

Treatment for cellulitis includes antibiotics.

Read more about cellulitis.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a high blood pressure condition that people experience during pregnancy. With this condition, the high blood pressure of the mother reduces the blood supply to the fetus.

Preeclampsia can affect all the organs in your body and is considered a serious condition.

People who are pregnant may develop preeclampsia after 20 weeks, often in the third trimester of pregnancy. Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

  • swelling of the face or hands
  • headache that will not go away
  • changes in eyesight or seeing spots
  • pain in your shoulder or upper abdomen
  • sudden weight gain
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea and vomiting in the second half of pregnancy

Treatment for preeclampsia involves close monitoring by your doctor. If you develop severe features of the condition, you may require treatment and monitoring in the hospital.

Discuss all management options and possible complications of preeclampsia with your doctor.

Read more about preeclampsia.

Other causes of face swelling

Other causes of facial swelling include:

Actinomycosis can cause lumps or swelling of the face or neck, as pictured here.

Actinomycosis

Actinomycosis can cause lumps or swelling of the face or neck, as pictured here.

CDC/Dr. Thomas F. Sellers/Emory University, 2006 Via Wikimedia Commons

Allergic conjunctivitis can cause redness, discoloration, and swelling of the eyes.

Allergic conjuctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis can cause redness, discoloration, and swelling of the eyes.

James Heilman, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Angioedema can cause swelling of the lips.

Angioedema

Angioedema can cause swelling of the lips.

James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A broken nose can cause changes in the nose's appearance, including its shape.

Broken nose

A broken nose can cause changes in the nose's appearance, including its shape.

TayFos/Istock

Cellulitis can cause swelling of the eyelids.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis can cause swelling of the eyelids.

Afrodriguezg, 2014 via Wikicommons

When to see a doctor

If you experience swelling in your face, contact your doctor. Many causes of facial swelling are not serious but may require specific treatment.

If you experience any of the symptoms of a serious reaction like anaphylaxis, contact emergency services right away.

Summary

Face swelling may have various causes. These range from allergic reactions to medical conditions. Many of these causes are not serious.

Reactions like anaphylaxis, however, are medical emergencies and require immediate treatment.

If you experience facial swelling of any kind, contact your doctor to have them look at the swelling. Even if the cause is not serious, it may require specific medical treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Lauren Castiello, MS, AGNP-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.