Face Swelling

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What is face swelling?

Face swelling is the enlargement or distention of the face due to fluid buildup or inflammation in the facial tissues. Swelling can occur anywhere on the face, but it is most noticeable on the lips, cheeks and eyelids. Swelling can also extend to the neck region. Facial swelling may also be referred to as facial edema.

A variety of mild to serious disorders, diseases and conditions can lead to face swelling. Swelling can result from infections, inflammation, trauma and malignancy (cancer).

Depending on the cause, facial swelling can last for a short time, such as when you develop swollen eyelids during an allergic reaction to animal dander. Facial swelling that develops over time and occurs along with additional symptoms may be a sign of an infection, such aserysipelas orsinusitis.

Because facial swelling and swelling in general may be a sign of a serious condition, you should talk with your medical professional about your symptoms. If you experience facial swelling accompanied by difficulty breathing, hives, intense distress, fever, redness, or warmth, seek immediate medical care (call 911).

What other symptoms might occur with face swelling?

Face swelling may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, swelling over the cheeks and eyes can be a sign of sinusitis that is often accompanied by pain and congestion.

Symptoms that may occur along with face swelling

Face swelling may occur with other symptoms including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, face swelling can indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. S eek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms:

  • Coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing

  • Face swelling after head trauma

  • Feeling like your throat is tight

  • Fever with red and tender areas

  • General edema (swelling)

  • Hives or rash

  • Intense distress

  • Itching in the throat or mouth

  • Pale or bluish coloration (cyanosis)

  • Protruding or bulging eye or eyes (proptosis) with redness, fever and pain

  • Sudden or severe swelling

What causes face swelling?

Face swelling can be caused by inflammation, allergies, trauma or infection in the tissues of the face. Facial swelling can be due to relatively mild conditions, such as a sinus infection, or a serious or life-threatening condition, such as analphylactic shock, that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Infectious causes of face swelling

Facial swelling can be due to a variety of infections including:

  • Bacterial or viral conjunctivitis (noticeable swelling around the eyes)
  • Erysipelas (an aggressive Group A Streptococcus infection that most frequently harms children and the immunocompromised) 
  • Cellulitis (skin infection)
  • Mumps
  • Orbital cellulitis (acute infection of the area surrounding the eye)
  • Sinus infection or sinusitis
  • Stye (also called a hordeolum, infected oil gland of the eyelid)
  • Tooth abscess

Allergic causes of face swelling

Facial swelling can be due to mild to serious allergic reactions, such as:

  • Insect bite allergy, such as from a bee sting
  • Hay fever or allergic reaction from animal dander, dust, cosmetics, or pollen
  • Drug allergy, such as to penicillin or codeine
  • Anaphylactic allergic reaction to any substance

Traumatic causes of face swelling

Facial swelling can arise from injury or trauma, such as:

  • Facial burn or other trauma
  • Surgery on the face
  • Oral surgery

Other causes of face swelling

Facial swelling can be due to various other conditions including:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of face swelling

To diagnose the underlying cause of face swelling, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of face swelling by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • What is the exact location of the swelling?
  • Describe the swelling. When did the swelling start? Does it come and go or is it constant?
  • Did you eat any foods or come in contact with any unusual substances preceding the swelling?
  • Are you are experiencing any pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms?
  • Provide your full medical history, including all medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, family history, and a complete list of the medications and dietary supplements that you take.

What are the potential complications of face swelling?

Complications associated with facial swelling can be progressive and vary depending on the underlying cause. Because facial swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in complications and permanent damage. It is important to visit your health care provider when you experience swelling or other unusual symptoms. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor can lower your risk for potential complications of these conditions including:

  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory arrest from anaphylactic shock
  • Loss of sight from orbital cellulitis
  • Skin or other tissue removal, such as due a serious infection or malignant condition
  • Spread of infection to other parts of the body, including the blood
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 3
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.
  1. Facial Swelling. FamilyDoctor.org from the American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/symptom/facial-swelling/
  2. Facial swelling. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.     https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003105.htm