Facial Swelling: 12 Causes, What to Do & 4 Treatment Options

Updated in January 2023

Most times, facial swelling can occur from simple occurrences, like pressing your face against your pillow, mild hits, or dental surgery. This type of swelling usually resolves with time and with easy interventions like ice.

When facial swelling occurs with other symptoms like fever, heat around the affected area, pain, skin redness, shortness of breath or swelling in other areas, it can be a sign of other health conditions. This type of facial swelling may be a sign of a more serious condition, like an infection, allergic reaction, trauma, kidney failure and heart disease. 

If you notice facial swelling with other symptoms, it is important to consult a doctor to identify an underyling cause and start treatment as appropriate. 

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What causes facial swelling?

Facial swelling can occur for the following reasons: 

1. Excess sleeping or not enough sleeping

Facial swelling can occur when you do not sleep or rest enough. Excess sleep or rest can also cause facial swelling, as prolonged pressure against a pillow when lying down can lead to swelling. These cases cause mild swelling that usually resolves within the day.  

What to do: Swelling from sleeping too much or not enough does not usually cause other symptoms and typically resolves within a few hours. However, if swelling does not improve throughout the day, or if you notice other symptoms, like shortness of breath or swelling in other areas, you should consult your doctor. 

2. Excess salt or sodium intake 

Frequently eating food with high salt or sodium content can lead to facial swelling, as well as swelling in other parts of the body, like the hands and legs.  

What to do: Decreasing salt intake and avoiding adding salt to foods can help to reduce swelling. However, if swelling persists, or if other symptoms occur, like fatigue, foamy urine or bloody urine, you should see a family doctor for assessment. Check out ways to treat water retention with home remedies. 

3. Medication side effects 

Facial swelling can occur as a consequence of some medications, like antihypertensives, corticosteroids, birth control and anti-inflammatories. Swelling can also be noted to other parts of the body, like the legs or arms, and is generally the result of a medication that acts on the blood vessels or kidneys. 

What to do: In this case, you should report swelling to your prescriber to determine whether the medication should be discontinued or swapped for an alternative. Facial swelling usually improves once the medication is addressed. 

4. Infectious diseases

Some infectious diseases, like sinusitis or even infectious insect bites, can worsen and lead to a swollen face. They can also cause symptoms like heat in the affected area and even difficulty seeing or moving the eyes. 

What to do: You should see a doctor as soon as possible, before the infection worsens. Treatment may involve the use of antibiotics.

5. Allergic reactions

Food, medications, makeup products, infectious, infections and insect bites on the head or neck can all trigger allergic reactions that lead to facial swelling. Many people may also experience symptoms like itching and skin redness. 

What to do: If you suspect you are having an allergic reaction, you should seek urgent medical attention for assessment and treatment. Facial swelling accompanied by breathing, low bread pressure, and throat swelling may be a sign of anaphylactic shock. 

6. Dental, facial, head or neck surgery

Dental surgeries, or surgeries to the face, head or neck may lead to swelling, which is a normal, expected finding. Some patients even report pain and difficulty moving te affected area. 

What to do: Swelling generally improves on its own within a few days of surgery. However, if you notice redness, pus or a headache, it may be a sign of infection tat requires further assessment. If you experience difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately. 

7. Direct head trauma 

Head trauma or blows to te head can cause facial swelling, as well as pain and some disorientation that improves following the flow. More serious symptoms, like confusion, drowsiness, loss of consciousness or seizures, may be a sign of a more serious head injury. 

What to do: Applying cold water or ice to the area can help to improve swelling and pain. If other symptoms emerge following the trauma, or if they persist for days, you should see a doctor for a thorough assessment. 

8. Pregnancy

Facial swelling during pregnancy is not too common, but can occur as a result of preeclampsia. Other symptoms of this condition that may emerge include high blood pressure, decreased urine output or difficulty breathing. 

What to do: If swelling occurs with other symptoms during pregnancy, you should seek medical attention immediately to rule out preeclampsia.

9. Hypothyroidism

Facial swelling caused by hypothyroidism usually occurs when this condition is left untreated. Swelling can be noted to the eyelids, face and hands, while other symptoms like fatigue, constipation and weight gain and can also occur. Learn more about the symptoms of hypothyroidism and what causes it. 

What to do: If it important to see an endocrinologist for assessment, especially if other symptoms of hypothyroidism are present. If confirmed, facial swelling will usually subside with treatment (which involves the use of hormone replacement therapy). 

10. Cancer treatment 

Some cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and immunotherapy, can also cause facial swelling due to their effect ont he tumor. Swelling is particularly noted at the beginning of treatment, and can occur with other symptoms like fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness and decreased urine output. 

What to do: Swelling that emerges with other symptoms like decreased urine output and drowsiness should be reported to the attending oncologist for a thorough assessment to be completed.

11. Headache

Some types of headaches, like cluster headaches, can cause pain in the eye area as well as facial swelling during flare-ups. Some people also experience increased tears, stuffy nose, runny nose, sweating and intense discomfort. Learn more symptoms that can occur with cluster headaches and migraines and how to relieve them.

What to do: Facial swelling and other symptoms tend to improve once the headache resolves. Analgesics (like acetaminophen) and anti-inflammatories are usually not enough to relieve pain, however, and therefore i ts important to see a family doctor neurologist for a more thorough assessment and treatment plan. 

12. Severe malnutrition

Severe malnutrition from serious protein deficiencies can lead to facial swelling. It is most seen in children, and swelling typically starts in the legs. Malnutrition usually causes muscular atrophy, increased belly size, pallor, hair loss and growth delays.

What to do: You should consume protein in sufficient quantities to address all nutritional necessities and prevent malnutrition. If symptoms like swelling, muscular strophy and growth delays are noted, you should see a pediatrician when possible. Swelling tends to resolve as nutrition needs are addressed. 

Treatment options

Some measures that can help to relieve swelling include:

1. Apply a cold compress 

Washing your face with cold water is a simple, but effective strategy for relieving swelling. You can also apply a cold compress over the eyes in circular motions to decrease fluid retention in this area, especially in cases of inflammation, trauma or surgery. Coldness helps to constrict blood vessels and decrease blood flow to the area, which reduces swelling. 

2. Drink water and exercise 

If is important to maintain hydration levels by drinking plenty of water throughout the day and exercising regularly. Exercising in the morning, in particular, can improve blood circulation and increase urine production, which will facilitate fluid elimination. 

Your hydration habits, however, should be monitored by a doctor if you have swelling, as excessive hydration can worsen inflammation and the underlying cause. 

3. Lymphatic drainage 

Lymphatic drainage to the face is also a natural solution for decreasing swelling. It should be done by a qualified health professional with experience in lymphatic drainage. 

4. Diuretic medication

Another option to reduce swelling is to take diuretic medications, like furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide or aldactone, which should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor. These medication stimulate the kidneys to filter the blood at a higher rate, to eliminate sodium and fluid through the urine.

These medications can help to control blood pressure, however they are contraindicated in some situations, like kidney failure, liver disease or dehydration. You should see a doctor to ensure you are taking the proper diuretic.