An allergic reaction is a specific type of sensitivity to something you’ve eaten, inhaled, or touched. The thing that you’re allergic to is called an allergen. Your body interprets the allergen as foreign or harmful, and it reacts to the allergen as a form of protection.
You can have an allergic reaction on any part of your body. The face is a common site of allergic reactions involving your skin.
Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever, can occur in early spring and can cause a number of symptoms involving the face.
This includes eyes that are:
Severe allergies can lead to allergic conjunctivitis, an oozing inflammation of the conjunctiva of your eyes.
Critters of all kinds can cause allergic reactions.
People with pet allergies do not react to the animal’s hair or fur, but rather to the animal’s saliva and dander (skin cells).
If you’re allergic to cats, dogs, or other animals, you’re likely to sneeze and become congested. Animal-induced allergic reactions also cause hives and rashes. Hives are raised skin bumps that commonly appear on your neck and face.
Insect bites and stings can also produce hives and welts.
You may have eczema if scaly, itchy patches of skin appear on your:
The cause of eczema is not fully understood.
People who have asthma or seasonal allergies are more likely to develop the skin condition, but not necessarily. In rare cases, eczema can also be associated with a food allergy.
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 reaction is called contact dermatitis.
It can be triggered by substances ranging from poison ivy to a certain food to a new brand of laundry detergent.
You can have a reaction wherever your skin has touched the substance. Because 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.
The severity of food allergies varies. You may feel sick in 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.
The most common food allergies in the United States are from:
Drug allergies are rare overall. They range in severity and the types of symptoms they cause.
When they do occur, they often cause rashes on your face and arms. In addition, drug allergies can cause hives, generalized swelling of your face, and anaphylaxis.
Medications that may potentially cause allergies include:
- sulfa drugs, a category of antibiotics
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- chemotherapy drugs
Anaphylaxis is the extreme reaction of your immune system to an allergen. When it progresses to the point where your body begins to shut down, it’s known as anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock are the most severe types of allergic reactions you can have.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- tightness in your throat and chest
- swelling of your face, lips, and throat
- hives or a red rash throughout areas of your body
- wheezing or trouble breathing
- extreme pallor or bright flushing of your face
Anaphylactic shock is characterized by additional signs and symptoms, such as:
- low blood pressure
- reduced blood flow
When to seek help
Call 911 or your local emergency services in the case of anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. If they’re not treated, they can be fatal.
If you’re not sure what’s causing your rash or hives, consider keeping a journal of your diet, products, and activities to see if there is a pattern. It’s a good idea 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 or an allergist.
Anaphylactic reactions aside, many allergic reactions on your face can be treated after a quick consultation with a doctor.
In some cases, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine or applying a topical corticosteroid (e.g., hydrocortisone) can help your body stop reacting to the allergen within a short period of time.
OTC antihistamines for allergies include:
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- loratadine (Claritin)
It’s best to speak with a doctor to find the right treatment for your allergic reaction.