Facial swelling is not uncommon and can happen as a result of an injury, allergy, medication, infection, or other medical condition.
The good news? There are many medical and nonmedical methods you can use to reduce the swelling or inflammation you’re faced with.
“Facial swelling occurs as the body’s response to an injury or insult,” says Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, MD. “It’s our body’s reaction to protecting or fighting off an infection or exposure to an allergen or chemical or trauma,” she adds.
She explains that various cells in our body release chemicals in response to an insult to the face or other body part, whereas inflammatory cells are activated by trauma or after surgery, which then causes the swelling.
Waking up to a puffy face or lips is quite common for many people.
“This can be the result of too much salt in your diet the night before, too much alcohol, dehydration, allergies, mold, dust, pollen, hormone changes, the way your face sleeps on the pillow, and good ole stress can increase inflammation which causes swelling,” explains Nesheiwat.
To reduce morning facial swelling, consider trying one of Nesheiwat’s tips:
- Upon waking, wash your face with cool water to reduce swelling.
- Avoid salty foods and processed foods before you go to bed (and in general).
- Don’t sleep with your makeup on because inflammation of the skin contributes to the facial swelling you see in the morning.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water all day long.
- Avoid excess alcohol.
- Don’t sleep on your belly.
- Use cold cucumbers on the areas that are swollen. Cucumbers contain antioxidants, which help to soothe puffy eyes.
Food, medications, insect or bee stings, and even infections can cause allergic reactions that lead to facial swelling.
Facial swelling due to a serious allergic reaction can be dangerous if the airway swells up. This is the most dangerous scenario because it can sometimes include the tongue, the pharynx, or the airway. Nesheiwat says this can be life-threatening and most often requires an EpiPen to treat.
That’s why she says if you ever feel your lips, tongue, or throat swelling or closing down, call 911 or go to the hospital immediately. But if you have mild swelling or a rash, Nesheiwat says it’s reasonable to take an antihistamine and use a cold pack.
However, she does warn that if the swelling gets worse or you see little to no improvement, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. Depending on the cause of the allergic reaction and swelling, your doctor may prescribe you steroids.
Sustaining an injury to your face can result in swelling in the area where the injury occurred. Depending on the type and severity of the injury, you may also have swelling in other areas. These factors will determine the approach you take to reduce the swelling.
“To reduce swelling due to an injury, the best thing to do is ice the area of injury as soon as possible,” says Nesheiwat. The severity of the injury will determine your next steps. Nesheiwat says if you have any headaches, bruising, or bleeding, you need to see a doctor immediately.
External signs and symptoms, such as bruising or bleeding can also indicate an internal facial or head injury.
Bruising can take one to two weeks to fade, so make sure to stay on top of the at-home treatments. Nesheiwat says you can reduce mild swelling and bruising on the face with ice, hydration, arnica, and bromelain (pineapple enzyme).
You may also want to avoid lying flat when sleeping, and try to keep your head slightly elevated. These tips are true for after surgery as well.
“Sometimes an anti-inflammatory medicine can help with pain and symptoms, but you should always check with your doctor first before taking any medicine as even over-the-counter medications can cause complications,” explains Nesheiwat.
When it comes to reducing swelling in the face after an injury, the key is to have patience (and lots of it).
Unlike other causes of inflammation, swelling due to a surgery can take at least several days to go down (often five to seven days). When it comes to the best methods for reducing facial swelling after a surgery, you can use several of the tips recommended for bruising. Using an ice or cold pack on your face is one of the best things you can do.
Your doctor will likely have a specific protocol for you to follow, but generally, you can apply ice to the swollen area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Depending on your tolerance, most doctors will tell you to do this at least three times a day.
The type and extent of any jaw surgery you’re healing from can also dictate how long generalized facial swelling lasts.
Generally speaking, treatments for facial swelling focus on taking care of swelling around the eyes and eyelids, cheeks, or jaw.
Other treatment may focus on reducing swelling caused by impact fractures, allergic reactions, teeth problems, sinus issues, or other medical conditions.
If the swelling is a result of an injury or allergy, you should seek medical attention before trying any type of at-home treatment or remedy. Your doctor will be able to help you determine the exact cause of the swelling and recommend the appropriate treatment plan.
Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can come up with a plan of attack. Some of the more common ways to reduce facial swelling include:
- Getting more rest. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends sleep as an integral piece of physical health and healing.
- Increasing your water and fluid intake.
- Applying a cold compress to the swollen area.
- Applying a warm compress to promote the movement of fluid buildup. Be careful if you do so around the eye area since the skin here is more sensitive.
- Taking the appropriate allergy medication/antihistamine (over-the-counter medication or prescription).
- Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication.
- Taking an antibiotic along with using at-home remedies for an abscess in a tooth.
- For minor swelling, try applying cucumber slices or tea bags to the swollen area or massaging the area to stimulate blood flow.
- If your swelling is sudden, painful, or severe, you should see a doctor right away.
- You should also pay special attention to any facial swelling that corresponds with a fever, tenderness, or redness. This could mean you have an infection that needs to be evaluated by a doctor.
- If you have difficulty breathing, this indicates a serious medical emergency, and you need to call 911 and get to a hospital immediately.
Facial swelling is a common reaction to anything from eating a lot of salt to experiencing a major medical emergency. The at-home treatments and remedies available work great as long as your swelling does not need immediate medical attention.