Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 09, 2021

Medication

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Facial swelling can be a side effect of some common medications, including:

  • ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure (enalapril, lisinopril, ramipril)
  • ARBs for high blood pressure (irbesartan, losartan, valsartan)
  • Corticosteroids
  • Estrogen
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone, rosiglitazone) for diabetes

Drug Allergies

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It might not be a medication side effect, but your body’s allergic reaction. This can cause swelling in your face and elsewhere. It may also cause an itchy rash on your skin and breathing problems, sometimes serious enough to require emergency care. Common triggers are antibiotics (such as penicillin), aspirin, ibuprofen, anti-seizure meds, and chemotherapy drugs.

Bug Bite or Sting

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Those tiny critters (bees, wasps, spiders) can give you a mighty bite or sting that inflames and irritates your skin. This usually gets better in a few hours or days. An allergic reaction can worsen the swelling, sometimes away from the bite itself. In some cases, this can be a sign of a serious response called anaphylaxis that makes it hard to breathe and needs emergency care.

Sunburn

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It doesn’t take long. Some people can burn the skin on their face with just 15 minutes in direct sunlight. Along with painful, dry, itchy skin, serious sunburn can cause your face to swell and blister. You could even have a headache, dizziness, and nausea. So cover up with hats and protective clothing, use sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, and stay out of the sun during the brightest part of the day.

Food Allergy

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If you’re allergic to things you eat or drink, your body will react if it comes across them. Fish, nuts, and dairy are common triggers. This may inflame your face within minutes, especially around your lips and eyes, as well as your tongue and the roof of the mouth. You may also feel light-headed, nauseated, and itchy on your skin or inside your ears, mouth, or throat. Call 911 and use an epinephrine pen if you were prescribed one.

Angioedema

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It’s when too much fluid collects under your skin, commonly around your face. It’s not always clear what causes it, but it can happen because of an allergic reaction to a wide range of things, including pollen, latex (in rubber), insect bites, food, water, and even sunlight. Medications can also cause it, even without an allergic reaction.

Sinusitis

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It usually starts with the common cold. This makes it easier for bacteria to infect your sinuses, the small hollow, bony areas near your cheekbones. A stuffy, blocked nose is the most obvious symptom. Pain and swelling happen around your nose, cheeks, eyes, and forehead and might get worse when you bend over. Your doctor can help you treat it with rest, pain medication, and sometimes antibiotics.

Preeclampsia

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If you’re pregnant and your face, hands, or feet swell all of a sudden, it may be a sign of this serious condition. You might also have a headache, nausea, trouble breathing, or belly pain. It starts around 20 weeks into a pregnancy and causes a rise in blood pressure. Tell your doctor right away if you notice symptoms. It can damage organs -- often the liver or kidneys -- and is risky for your baby as well.

Cellulitis

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Bacteria infect the lower layers of skin. In kids, it’s most common in the face and neck. The first sign is usually red and swollen skin that’s warm and sensitive to the touch. You might have chills, fever, and sometimes nausea, drowsiness, and trouble thinking. You could see red streaks, bumps, or sores on your skin. Get medical care right away if you notice these signs because it can be very serious if you don’t treat it.

Contact Dermatitis

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Your face gets itchy, red, and inflamed simply by touching jewelry, makeup, or plants like poison ivy. Sometimes it’s an allergic reaction, but it also could be toxins like battery acid or bleach. Or just too much of any substance. Even saliva can dry and inflame your lips if you lick them too much. Try to figure out and avoid the cause. Over-the-counter drugs and creams are usually enough to ease your symptoms.

Cushing’s Syndrome

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Your face can get a rounded, “moon-faced” swollen look from this rare condition. It happens when your adrenal glands make too much of the “stress hormone” cortisol for too long. You might also have more fat around your belly and neck, weaker muscles, and purplish bruises or stretch marks. Treatments include surgery if a tumor caused the condition, chemotherapy, radiation, or medication to lower your cortisol levels. 

Superior Vena Cava Syndrome

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This isn’t likely unless you have lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or other cancers that spread to the chest. The superior vena cava is a vein that carries blood to the heart from the head, neck, and chest. If it gets blocked, usually by a cancer, it’s called superior vena cava syndrome. Your face, arms, neck, and upper body often swell up. You also might start to cough more and have trouble breathing. Call your doctor right away. Call 911 if have trouble  breathing.

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