We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.

What does allergic reaction mean?

An allergic reaction is a sensitivity to something you’ve eaten, inhaled, or touched. What you’re allergic to is called an allergen. Your body interprets the allergen as foreign or harmful, and it attacks it as a form of protection.

You can have an allergic reaction on any part of your body. The face is a common site for allergic reactions involving your skin.

Seasonal allergies, or hay fever, can occur in early spring and can cause a number of facial symptoms. This includes red, watery, itchy, and swollen eyes. Severe allergies can lead to allergic conjunctivitis, which is an oozing inflammation of the conjunctiva membranes of the eyes.

Critters of all kinds can cause allergic reactions. People with pet allergies don’t react to the animal’s hair or fur, but rather to the animal’s saliva and skin cells, or dander.

If you’re allergic to cats, dogs, or other animals, you’re likely to sneeze and become congested. Animal-induced allergic reactions also include hives and rashes. Hives are raised bumps on the skin that are most common on your neck and face. Insect bites and stings can also produce hives and welts.

You might get a red rash or hives on your face if you’ve touched a substance that your body perceives as an allergen. This type of allergic reaction is called contact dermatitis. The allergen can range from poison ivy to a food you’ve touched or a new brand of laundry detergent.

Wherever your skin has touched the offending substance, you can have a reaction. Since most people touch their faces many times throughout the day, it’s not unusual to have contact dermatitis near your eyes or mouth.

Food allergies are some of the most common types of allergies that affect the face. The severity of food allergies varies. You may feel sick to your stomach after eating a certain food, while others may develop a rash or swelling around their lips.

A severe, life-threatening food allergy can cause your tongue and windpipe to swell. This type of reaction is called anaphylaxis, and it requires immediate medical attention.

Drug allergies range in severity and the types of symptoms they cause. Skin rashes on the face and arms are common with medication allergies.

Drug allergies can also cause hives, a generalized swelling of the face, and anaphylaxis.

You may have eczema if you have scaly, itchy patches of skin on your:

  • face
  • neck
  • hands
  • knees

The cause of eczema, or atopic dermatitis, isn’t well-understood.

People who have asthma or seasonal allergies may be more likely also to develop the skin condition, but not necessarily. Eczema can also be associated with a food allergy.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe type of allergic reaction you can have. Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is the extreme reaction of your immune system to an allergen. Your body begins to shut down. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • tightness in the throat and chest
  • swelling of the face, lips, and throat
  • hives or a red rash throughout areas of the body
  • trouble breathing or wheezing
  • extreme pallor or bright flushing of the face

Call 911 or local emergency services in the case of anaphylactic shock. If anaphylaxis isn’t treated, it can be fatal.

With the exception of an anaphylactic reaction, you can get treatment for many allergies that cause symptoms on the face through a quick consultation with your doctor. In some cases, taking an over-the-counter antihistamine can help your body stop reacting to the allergen within a few short minutes.

If you aren’t sure what’s causing your rash or hives, keep a journal of your diet and activities until you start to see a pattern. And don’t forget to keep your doctor in the loop at all times.

The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you need help finding a primary care doctor.