If you’ve ever cried during a sad movie, ingested something you’re allergic to, or bumped your head on an open cabinet, your face probably started to swell shortly thereafter. In fact, having a puffy face from time-to-time due to harmless activities such as eating spicy food or having a good cry, is totally normal. Some people even find that they tend to have a puffy face in the morning and not in the afternoons and evenings, likely caused by dehydration, seasonal allergies, or consumption of high amounts of salt or alcohol the night before.
In some cases, facial swelling may be an indicator of a life-threatening condition such as anaphylactic shock. Luckily, other accompanying symptoms including itchy throat, heavy wheezing, and hives will help you identify the seriousness of the issue.
What Is Facial Swelling?
Facial swelling is puffiness caused by inflammation of facial tissue. Also known as facial edema, a puffy face is the result of an abnormally large buildup of fluid in your face, which occurs directly under the skin within your tissues.
Facial swelling is most obvious on the eyelids, cheeks, and lips and typically dissipates within a few hours, though in some instances, the swelling can spread to your neck and throat.
Facial swelling is typically brought on by something specific, such as certain medications, infections, and injuries, among other causes. Unless your puffy face lasts for more than a day or is accompanied by severe discomfort and/or difficulty breathing, you shouldn’t panic. In most cases, rehydrating, icing the affected area, and resting will reduce the swelling.
Possible Causes of Puffy Face
A puffy face is typically a symptom of another condition, and often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, including hives. Some people experience facial swelling on specific and rare occasions, such as tooth abscesses, while others may be prone to frequent puffiness due to underlying conditions, including thyroid disorders, which affect the regulation of your metabolism and other bodily functions.
Certain foods, such as an excess of carbs, salt, and alcohol, can also cause facial swelling. Stress can also cause your face to swell because when you’re feeling anxious, your adrenal glands produce more cortisol than usual, which can cause a variety of physical symptoms, including facial swelling. Your puffy cause could be caused by a variety reasons including:
Other possible causes of puffy face include persistent and painful sinus headaches. Sinus headaches are identified by the location of pain—directly behind your face—and typically, the pain worsens when you bend forward.
Tooth abscesses can also cause facial puffiness, but the swelling is typically localized to the side of your face with the affected tooth, otherwise known as unilateral facial swelling.
Symptoms to Watch For
Unlike some conditions whose symptoms may be unclear, the symptoms of facial swelling are very noticeable. For some people, swelling occurs gradually and over the course of a few hours and for others, it can happen quickly and in a matter of minutes.
If you are experiencing facial swelling, you’ll notice that parts of your face such as your eyes, cheeks, and/or lips both look and feel puffier than usual, and you may also experience other symptoms including:
How to Get Rid of Puffy Face
The best way to reduce a puffy face is to identify what is causing the swelling. For instance, if your cheek is puffy because you were just stung by a bee, you’d remove the stinger immediately and apply ice; whereas if your throat is swollen because you’re experiencing a minor allergic reaction, over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines will help with your inflammation. If your facial swelling is accompanied by difficulty breathing, a serious drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, dizziness, or lightheadedness, you should seek medical attention immediately.
If your symptoms are manageable and you aren’t in pain, there are a few things you can do at home to reduce the swelling in your face including:
- Applying an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
- Applying a cold compress
- Sleeping on your back while propping your head
- Icing the affected area
- Avoiding alcoholic beverages and salty foods
Risk Factor and Complications
While facial swelling could be a symptom of an allergic reaction or the result of an injury, in some cases, it can be a symptom of a more urgent medical condition. If you are suffering from a medical emergency, such as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure, and you ignore it, you may develop more serious complications like high blood pressure, seizures, kidney and/or liver damage, fluid in your lungs, and blood clotting. Symptoms associated with anaphylaxis include:
- Skin reactions such as hives or rash
- Low blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing due to constricted airways
- Weak or rapid pulse
- Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
- Dizziness and/or fainting
Certain conditions and factors may increase your risk for developing facial swelling. You may be more likely to develop facial swelling if you:
- Have a family history of severe allergic reactions
- Are pregnant
- Have an infection
- Have consumed large quantities of alcohol or salt
- Are underweight or overweight
When to See a Doctor
Most of the time, your facial swelling can be treated at home. However, if it’s worsening at a concerning rate, becoming increasingly painful or inhibiting your ability to carry out simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, opening your eyes, or eating, seek medical treatment immediately.
You should also seek medical treatment if you knowingly consumed something you’re allergic to. If you ignore your symptoms, you may experience anaphylaxis, which, if not treated immediately, usually with epinephrine, can have fatal consequences.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.