A puffy face may be a normal reaction to an allergy, part of being pregnant, or a side effect of taking steroids.
A puffy face may also be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as a thyroid disorder, Cushing’s disease, or an infection.
Sometimes you can reduce puffiness in the face by cutting out alcohol, decreasing salty foods, and applying a cool compress to your face.
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.
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, a toothache, or symptoms of a thyroid disorder. Certain foods, such as an excess of carbs, salt, and alcohol, can also cause facial swelling.
Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body reaction to an allergen. When a person comes in contact with something they are allergic to, sometimes their body has this extreme reaction. Common causes of anaphylaxis include:
- Drug allergies: examples include an allergy to an antibiotic or pain medication
- Food allergies: examples include peanuts and shellfish
- Insect bites/sting: an example is a bee sting
Anaphylaxis requires emergency treatment before the airway becomes compromised. Call 911 and if the person has their emergency allergy medication such as an EpiPen, inject it immediately while you wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
Seasonal allergies happen when your immune system reacts to pollen from plants. You may have symptoms such as
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes, nose, mouth, and throat
- Puffiness under the eyes
The best way to avoid seasonal allergies is to avoid pollens that cause your allergies. You can also take medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids.
During pregnancy, it is common for the pregnant person to experience edema, and abnormal swelling at different places in the body including the face. This usually happens during the later part of the pregnancy.
However, extreme swelling of your face or hands during or after your pregnancy may be a sign of a medical emergency. Contact your medical provider if you are experiencing swelling in your face that is extreme.
Infection (eyes, sinuses, tooth)
An infection happens when a bacteria or virus is growing in your body and it’s not meant to be there. Your immune system goes into action and starts to attack the invading organism. This causes inflammation, swelling, and an increase in blood supply to the area making it warmer to the touch.
An infection in your eyes, sinuses, or teeth, can cause facial swelling in the area of the infection. Other symptoms you may experience include:
- Nasal congestion
- Stiff neck
If you believe you may be experiencing an infection, call your medical provider at once for proper treatment.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls how your body uses energy. Sometimes the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones, this is called hypothyroidism. Having hypothyroidism can cause your face to be puffy. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Frequently feeling cold
- Weight gain
- Muscle weakness
- Feeling sad
- Thin or dry hair
Hypothyroidism is treated by taking thyroid hormone medications.
Obesity is a common chronic disease that affects adults and children. When a person has obesity, there is an overabundance of adipose tissue under their skin and in their abdominal area. The cells that make up adipose tissue are known to produce substances that cause inflammation in the body. Sometimes this extra inflammation in the body causes the face to be more puffy.
If you are experiencing overweight or obesity, talk with your doctor about ways you can maintain a healthy weight.
Cushing’s syndrome is a condition in which your adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol helps your body respond to stress and also helps manage your blood pressure, and blood sugar, reduce inflammation, and turn the food you eat into energy.
Too much cortisol, however, is not good for your body and can cause complications with your heart, bones, and lungs, and puts you at risk for other diseases. Cushing’s syndrome is treatable with medications but without treatment can be fatal.
Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome may include:
- A round face
- Weight gain in the abdomen and back
- Thin arms and legs
- Easy bruising
- Weak muscles
- A fatty hump between the shoulders at the base of the neck
Steroids are medications given for many medical conditions. They have significant benefits in certain situations, however, they can also have adverse effects when taken for a prolonged period of time or at the wrong dosage amount.
Several adverse effects include:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Decrease bone density
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:
- Hives or rash
- Nasal congestion
- Watery eyes
- Swelling of the surrounding area
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 facial swelling is accompanied by difficulty breathing, a serious drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, dizziness, or lightheadedness, call 911.
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 (OTC) 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 Factors and Complications
Certain conditions and factors may increase your risk of 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.