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Facial Swelling

Facial Swelling

Alternate Names

  • face swelling
  • swelling in the face

Definition

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.

Risks

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
  • swelling inside the mouth following the removal of wisdom teeth
  • irritation of the skin of the face, such as from an insect bite or sunburn
  • cellulitis, a skin and soft tissue infection
  • mumps, which is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the cheeks
  • infectious mononucleosis
  • infections inside the mouth
  • 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. Sjögren syndrome, for instance, can cause swelling of the cheeks.
  • inherited conditions, such as hereditary angioedema. This condition can cause occasional bouts of severe facial swelling.
  • a tumor or cancer in or under the skin of the face, such as skin cancer. A salivary gland tumor may also cause facial swelling
Other causes are also possible.

Prevention

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. Proper dental care can prevent swellings from gum or tooth infections.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Many times the diagnosis is obvious from the history and physical exam. If not, further tests may be ordered. A blood test called an antibody titer 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 tumor is suspected, an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI may be ordered to look at the gland.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Long-term effects of facial swelliing 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.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Facial swelling in and of itself is not contagious and usually poses no risk to others. Mumps and infectious mononucleosis are contagious illnesses. Inherited conditions may be passed on to one's children in some cases.

Treatments

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. Allergic reactions may need to be treated with any of several medications, depending on the severity of the reaction.
A person with an autoimmune disorder is often given medications to suppress the immune system, such as prednisone. Bacterial infections are often treated with antibiotics. A dentist may need to be consulted for dental infections. Those with a tumor or cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

Side Effects

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. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or an allergic reaction to the anesthetic.

After Treatment

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 tumor or cancer may need regular monitoring for years after treatment to detect any recurrence early.

Monitor

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 healthcare professional.

Sources

Conn's Current Therapy, 1999, Rakel et al.

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