Facial pain is pain felt in any part of the face, including the mouth and eyes. Although it’s normally due to an injury or a headache, facial pain may also be the result of a serious medical condition.
Most causes of facial pain are harmless. However, if you have facial pain that seems to come without any known cause, call your doctor for an evaluation.
Facial pain can be due to anything from an infection to nerve damage in the face. Common causes of facial pain include:
- an oral infection
- an ulcer, or open sore
- an abscess, such as a collection of pus under the surface tissue in the mouth
- a skin abscess, which is a collection of pus under the skin
- a headache
- a facial injury
- a toothache
More serious causes of facial pain include:
- herpes zoster, or shingles
- a migraine
- sinusitis (sinus infection)
- a nerve disorder
- herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores
People often describe facial pain as cramp-like, stabbing, or achy. Pain from other areas in the body, such as the ears or head, may radiate or spread to your face.
The exact type of pain you feel will depend on the cause. A dull, throbbing pain on one side of your face or around your mouth is generally due to problems within the mouth, such as a toothache, cavity, or abscess. If you experience this type of pain, contact your dentist.
The pain associated with sinusitis feels like pressure or an aching pain across the front of the cheekbones and underneath the eyes. Abscesses and ulcers will often throb at the site of the sore. Headaches and injuries can feel like a stabbing sensation or can throb and ache.
Because there are many causes of facial pain, talk to your doctor if you experience pain that’s unexplainable or unbearable.
If you experience facial pain that appears suddenly and radiates from the chest or the left arm, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately. This may be the sign of an impending heart attack.
Facial pain usually isn’t a medical emergency, and you can often receive treatment at a regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment.
When visiting your doctor, make sure that you tell them:
- what part of your face is hurting
- how often you feel pain
- exactly where the pain is coming from
- what kind of pain you feel
- how long the pain lasts
- what relieves the pain
- any other symptoms experienced
Your doctor may order an imaging test, such as an X-ray or MRI scan to make a diagnosis. These imaging tests are useful in diagnosing problems within the bones, muscles, and tissue. Your doctor can also use an X-ray to check the sinuses.
Your doctor may take a blood sample to test for certain infections. This is a procedure with minimal pain that involves drawing blood from your arm.
If your symptoms reveal a possible eye condition or if your doctor is concerned you may be having heart problems, they’ll order additional tests.
If an eye condition is the cause of your facial pain, your doctor will refer you to an eye doctor who’ll give you a tonometry examination.
For this exam, your doctor will apply a numbing drop to each eye. Then, they’ll place a small strip of paper containing an orange dye against your eyeball. Your eye doctor will use a slit lamp that illuminates your eye to check your cornea and other parts of your eye for damage.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) may be necessary to see if your heart is causing the issues.
For this test, small, painless electrode monitors are placed on your chest, arms, and legs. These monitors are connected to an ECG machine, which takes a reading of your heart’s electrical activity.
This test is helpful in diagnosing a heart attack or abnormal heart rhythms.
Facial pain generally goes away once you receive a diagnosis and begin a treatment plan. Your doctor will determine treatment options for your facial pain based on the cause.
Pain caused by an infection such as sinusitis generally clears up after using antibiotics or allowing the infection to heal on its own.
Facial pain caused by a viral infection such as shingles may be associated with a rash. In some cases, the pain goes away without treatment within a few days to a few weeks. In other cases, nerve pain may persist for multiple months.
Prescription antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) may shorten the duration of the rash, but your doctor may use other medications to address any persistent nerve pain specifically.
If the facial pain is due to an oral condition, your dentist can treat it by prescribing antibiotics, pulling your tooth, or performing a root canal.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can treat facial pain caused by cluster headaches or migraine.
However, sometimes facial pain caused by headaches doesn’t respond to OTC medications. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief if this is the case.