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Facial Swelling

Sometimes you may wake up with a swollen, puffy face. This may happen as a result of pressure being placed on the face while sleeping. However, a swollen, puffy face can also arise from a facial injury or indicate an underlying medical condition.

Facial swelling doesn’t just include the face, but can also affect the neck or throat. If there are no injuries to the face, facial swelling can indicate a medical emergency. In most cases, a medical professional should treat facial swelling.

What causes facial swelling?

Facial swelling can be caused by both minor and major medical conditions. Many causes are easily treatable. However, some are severe and require immediate medical attention. Common causes of facial swelling include:

  • allergic reaction
  • eye infection (such as conjunctivitis)
  • surgery
  • side effect of medication
  • cellulitis (bacterial infection of the skin of face)
  • sinusitis
  • hormonal disturbance (such as thyroid diseases)
  • sty
  • abscess

Recognizing a medical emergency

A swollen face due to an allergic reaction may be accompanied by other symptoms. These are the symptoms of anaphylaxis (serious allergic reaction). Proper medical treatment must be administered immediately to prevent the reaction from turning into anaphylactic shock, which can be lethal.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock include:

  • swollen mouth and throat
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • hives or rash
  • swelling of the face or limbs
  • anxiety or confusion
  • coughing or wheezing
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • nasal congestion
  • palpitations and irregular heartbeat
  • slurred speech

If you experience any symptoms of anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.

Symptoms of shock may set in quickly. These symptoms include:

  • rapid breathing
  • rapid heart rate
  • weak pulse
  • low blood pressure

In severe cases, respiratory or cardiac arrests may occur.

Common causes for an allergic reaction are allergens such as:

  • insect bites
  • medications
  • plants
  • pollen
  • venom
  • shellfish
  • fish
  • nuts
  • animal dander

Recognizing facial swelling

Call 911 immediately if you’ve eaten foods that you’re allergic to, have been exposed to a known allergen, or have been stung by a venomous insect or reptile.

Don’t wait for the symptoms of anaphylaxis to set in. These symptoms may not occur right away — although, they do in most cases.

Along with facial swelling, other symptoms may occur, including:

  • hives or rash
  • itching
  • nasal congestion
  • watery eyes
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • chest discomfort
  • stomach discomfort
  • weakness
  • swelling of surrounding areas

Relieving the swelling

See your doctor immediately if you have facial swelling. If a venomous bee sting caused the swelling, remove the stinger immediately. Don’t use tweezers to remove the stinger — tweezers can pinch the stinger, causing it to release more venom.

Instead, use a playing card: Press down on the skin in front of the stinger and gently move the card towards the stinger. Then scoop the stinger up from the skin.


If the swelling was caused by an infection in the eyes, nose, or mouth, you will likely be prescribed antibiotics to clear the infection. If an abscess is present, the doctor may cut open the abscess and drain it. The open area will then be closed in with packing material to keep it from becoming infected and reoccurring.

Soothing a rash

A rash can be soothed with over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or ointment. Using a cool compress also can soothe the itch.

Other causes such as fluid retention and underlying medical conditions will be treated by a doctor accordingly.

Homecare treatment options

Prevent facial swelling by avoiding known allergens. Read ingredient labels and ask your waiter what ingredients are in the dishes you order. If you have a known allergy that can cause anaphylaxis and have been prescribed epinephrine medication (Epi-Pen), be sure to carry it with you. This medication is used to counteract a severe allergic reaction and can prevent facial swelling.

If you had an allergic reaction to medication, avoid taking that medication again. Notify your doctor of any reactions you’ve encountered after taking medication or eating certain foods.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Aug 26, 2015: Steven Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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