11 Reasons Why Your Face Looks So Swollen

Uh, when was the last time you went to a dentist?


Caroline Shannon-Karasik |

So you woke up looking like a balloon huh?

Before you blame those cocktails during dinner last night—wait, did you even have cocktails during dinner?—know that an actual medical issue could be to blame for your swollen face.

The reasons your face is swollen can vary widely—but luckily, there’s something you can do about most of them.

1. You’ve got a nasty sinus infection.

If the lining of your sinuses—the air-filled spaces between the eyes and behind your forehead, nose, and cheekbones—becomes inflamed or infected, they can get clogged with mucus. The pressure caused by that backup causes a dull ache around your eyes, greenish-yellow discharge from your nose, pounding headaches—and sometimes, a swollen face.

Most of the time, the infection is caused by a virus (translation: you don’t need antibiotics—just wait it out). Focus on resting, drink lots of fluids, and try an over-the-counter antihistamine, says Dr. Rosalyn Stewart, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

2. You have an abscessed tooth.

Having a cracked or chipped tooth or an untreated cavity can allow bacteria to sneak into the pulp—the soft innards—of your tooth, where they can multiply, says Stewart. The abscess (a.k.a. infection) results in a collection of pus (ew) and swelling around the tooth or gums. Translation: You’ll have a wicked toothache and jawline swelling.

Your dentist can prescribe antibiotics and will likely have to perform a root canal to remove the infected nerve; in the meantime, saltwater rinses and over-the-counter painkillers can make you more comfortable.

3. You have Cushing’s syndrome.

Yes, cortisol is a stress hormone, but it also helps regulate your blood pressure, blood sugar, and a slew of other things. When too much of it gets pumped out by your adrenal glands, it can lead to Cushing’s syndrome, a condition characterized by a round, moon-shaped face, skin that bruises easily, and thicker or more body hair.

Cushing’s affects women nearly three times more often than men, according to the U.S. , and often crops up in people who have been on glucocorticoids, which help inflammation, per the NIDDK.

Left untreated, Cushing’s syndrome can lead to heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, among other medical issues, says he NIDDK.

4. You’re allergic to something.

Beyond causing red eyes and a rapidly emptying tissue box, an allergic reaction to food, pollen, a medication, or any other substance can cause facial inflammation, especially around your eyes and nose, says Stewart.

Luckily there’s a quick fix: over-the-counter allergy meds can help dial down inflammation and reduce swelling.

5. You have a secret sunburn.

Yep, it’s possible to get a sunburn even if you don’t feel like you’ve been soaking up rays. “Ultraviolet light exposure from your everyday activities adds up,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. “Not only can this cause redness, but in some cases swelling, as well.”

Nix your chances of getting a sunburn by applying sunscreen daily. And if you’ve already gotten a sunburn, Zeichner suggests applying a light moisturizing lotion to soothe and hydrate your skin. If the burn is uncomfortable or doesn’t improve in a few days, visit a dermatologist for professional treatment.

6. You have cellulitis.

Nope, we’re not talking dimpled skin here (that’s cellulite). Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can cause your face (or anywhere else on your body, tbh) to rapidly inflate and become hot and red, says Stewart.

If you develop these symptoms—and especially if the swelling spreads—high-tail it to the emergency room, stat. Left untreated, the illness can be deadly. And it’s relatively easy to treat—a weeklong course of antibiotics should clear it up.

7. You’ve got the mumps.

Sounds old school, but this highly contagious illness is actually making a (scary) comeback. If you come down with mumps, you’ll likely have a headache, fever, and muscle aches, in addition to telltale chipmunk cheeks, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

If your doc confirms the condition through a saliva swab or blood test, your only choice is to wait it out. Most cases resolve in a few weeks, per the .

8. Your thyroid might be out of whack.

The butterfly-shaped gland in your throat pumps out a hormone that regulates your metabolism and body temperature. If it’s producing too little, metabolic changes can cause your subcutaneous tissues (a.k.a the stuff underneath your skin) to get bigger. “Everything fills out a little,” says Stewart, referencing overall swelling.

You’ll probably also feel chilly and weak and may notice that you have dry skin or that your periods have become irregular. Don’t freak: Your doctor can run a simple blood test and prescribe medication if necessary.

9. You have pink eye.

If the swelling is focused around your eye area, then you might be dealing with conjunctivitis (a.k.a., good ol’ pink eye), a nasty infection or inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids.

“Most causes of conjunctivitis are due to viruses, but it can also be triggered by allergies, bacteria, or even your lenses,” says Dr. Kristamarie Collman, an Atlanta-based family medicine physician and health expert. “In addition to swelling, you may also have redness, tearing, or itchy eyes.”

Collman says treatment for pink eye will depend on the type—it could be a viral or bacterial infection. “Viral conjunctivitis is typically treated with supportive therapy to include cool compresses and artificial tears for comfort,” she says. “For a bacterial conjunctivitis, it will require antibiotic eye drops.”

10. You have rosacea.

If you have rosacea (whether you know it or not), certain triggers can lead to a flare-up, Zeichner says. Hot weather, spicy foods, alcohol, and even emotional stress can all lead to facial flushing, burning, and even swelling.

Zeichner says a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and a daily application of sunscreen can help keep rosacea symptoms in check. Your dermatologist can also give you a prescription for a cream or pill that can help calm inflammation related to the condition.

11. You’re taking a steroid.

If you have been prescribed one of these bad boys, then your puffy face might be the result of that condition mentioned earlier called “moon face,” says Dr. Chirag Shah, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and co-founder of Accesa Labs. While the presence of moon face might be an indicator of an underlying medical condition like Cushing’s disease, it can also be the result of taking prescribed steroids—and higher doses could lead to more significant side effects.

If you are struggling on a dose of steroids, then you should discuss with your doctor the possibility of reducing the dosage. Possible good news? Actress Sarah Hyland—who has been on prednisone as a result of a lifelong kidney condition—swears by using a face roller to reduce the appearance of a puffy face.

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