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facial swelling

Alternative Names
face swelling, swelling in the face

Facial swelling refers to enlargement of any area of the face. The face includes the eyes, nose, mouth, forehead, cheeks and chin.

What is going on in the body?
Swelling in the face can occur for many reasons. It can be mild or severe, and involve any area of the face. Most causes of facial swelling are not life threatening, but a few are serious.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
When a person complains of swelling in his or her face, the doctor will ask questions about the swelling, such as:
  • exactly where the swelling is located
  • when the swelling started
  • whether the swelling is constant or only occurs sometimes
  • whether there has been any injury to the swollen area
  • whether or not there has been any other symptoms, such as facial pain, rash, or fever
  • what other medical conditions a person has, if any
  • what medications, drugs, or herbs a person takes, if any
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many possible causes of facial swelling. Common causes include:
  • trauma or injury to the face, such as being hit
  • irritation of the skin of the face, such as from an insect bite or sunburn
  • infections, such as cellulitis, which is a skin infection, or mumps, which is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the cheeks
  • conditions caused by clogged ducts near the eyes causing inflammation of the eyelid, such as chalazion
  • allergic-type conditions, such as seasonal allergies, which can cause mild swelling of the skin. Allergic reactions to medications, herbs, or other substances can cause swelling in the face, tongue, and lips. Food allergies can also cause facial swelling. This swelling can be severe and even life threatening in some cases.
  • certain conditions associated with high blood pressure, such as preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • autoimmune disorders, which occur when a person's immune system attacks his or her own body for unknown reasons. Sjogren syndrome, for instance, can cause swelling of the cheeks.
  • inherited conditions, such as a disorder known as hereditary angioedema. This condition can cause occasional bouts of severe facial swelling.
  • a tumour or cancer in or under the skin of the face, such as skin cancer. A salivary gland tumour may also cause facial swelling.
Other causes are also possible.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Most cases cannot be prevented. A vaccine for mumps is given routinely to all children and can help prevent cases of swelling from mumps. Skin cancer prevention techniques such as avoid prolonged sun exposure or using sunscreen can help prevent cases due to sunburn or skin cancer.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis of facial swelling begins with the history and physical examination, and further tests may be ordered. For instance, a blood test called an antibody titre may be ordered if an autoimmune condition is suspected. This test measures the level of certain proteins made by the immune system, called antibodies, in the blood. If a salivary gland tumour is suspected, an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI may be ordered to look at the gland.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects of facial swelling are primarily related to the cause. A minor injury may heal quickly and cause no long-term effects. A severe injury may lead to permanent deformity of the face. Severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylactic shock, can lead to death in some cases. autoimmune disorders often affect many different areas of the body.

What are the risks to others?
Facial swelling is not contagious and usually poses no risk to others. Inherited conditions may be passed on to one's children in some cases.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment of facial swelling is directed at its cause. Those with minor injuries may only need to keep the area clean and allow healing to occur. Those with major injuries may need sutures or surgery. Those with allergic reactions may need to be given medications, such as adrenaline.

A person with an autoimmune disorder is often given medications to suppress the immune system, such as prednisone. Infections are often treated with antibiotics. Those with a tumour or cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications have possible side effects. For instance, antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Prednisone can cause mood swings, weight gain, and weak bones. Any surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, or allergic reactions to anaesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Those with an injury often heal and need no further treatment or monitoring. Those with an allergic reaction are advised to avoid the medication or substance that caused the reaction. Those with a tumour or cancer may need regular monitoring for years after treatment to make sure the cancer doesn't come back.

How is the condition monitored?
Those with anaphylactic shock may need close monitoring in the intensive care unit for a few days. Those with Autoimmune disorders may need repeat blood tests and monitoring for side effects from the medications used to suppress the immune system. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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