Numbness refers to the loss of sensation in any part of your body. Numbness on your face isn’t a condition, but a symptom of something else.
Most causes of facial numbness are related to compression of your nerves or nerve damage. Having your face feel numb once in a while isn’t that unusual, although it can feel strange or even frightening.
Keep reading to learn more about causes of numbness to your face and which ones are concerning.
There are some symptoms related to facial numbness that warrant an immediate trip to the doctor. Call 911 or seek emergency care if you have facial numbness along with any one of the following:
- facial numbness that occurs after a head injury
- numbness that begins suddenly and involves an entire arm or leg in addition to your face
- difficulty speaking or comprehending others
- nausea and dizziness
- severe headache
- vision loss in one or both eyes
Facial numbness can be caused by several underlying factors. Here are nine possible conditions that could be causing your face to feel numb.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory condition that affects your nerves. This condition is chronic, but it progresses at different rates for different people. Most people with MS experience short periods of worsening symptoms followed by long stretches of very few symptoms at all. One of the first symptoms of MS is often facial numbness.
Facial numbness alone is not enough to warrant testing for MS. Other early symptoms can include:
- loss of coordination
- loss of bladder control
- blurred or loss of vision
- painful spasms in your legs or arms
If your doctor suspects that you have MS, you’ll need to have several tests to rule out other possibilities. Your doctor will likely do a physical examination, comprehensive neurological exam, a detailed family history, and an MRI scan.
MS flare-ups are treated with steroid drugs that temporarily suppress the immune system. Over the long term, the following drugs may help regulate and slow down MS progression:
- dimethyl fumarate
- glatiramer acetate
Bell’s palsy is a condition that typically causes numbness on one side of your face. Bell’s palsy sets in suddenly, and is most likely caused by the herpes virus. If you have Bell’s palsy, facial numbness is due to damage of the nerves in your face.
To diagnose Bell’s palsy, your doctor will need to rule out other possible causes for your facial numbness. Neurological imaging, such as an MRI or electromyography, will determine if the nerves that control your face have been damaged.
Bell’s palsy is most often a temporary condition, but it can last for months or even years.
A certain type of migraine headache can cause numbness on one side of your body. This is called a hemiplegic migraine. In addition to facial numbness, you might experience:
- vision problems
- speech difficulties
Typically, the symptoms of this kind of a migraine go away after 24 hours.
If you have a migraine along with facial numbness, your doctor will need to take a detailed family history and evaluate your symptoms. Sometimes this kind of migraine runs in families. Triptans and steroid medication injections are sometimes prescribed for the pain.
Facial numbness on one side or spread over your entire face can happen after you’ve had a stroke or ministroke. Numbness, tingling, or loss of control over facial muscles may come with other symptoms such as:
- severe headache
- difficulty speaking or swallowing
- sudden vision loss in one or both eyes
Strokes are caused by obstructed or ruptured arteries.
A doctor will be able to tell if you’ve had a stroke based on your symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms will disappear by the time that you get to a hospital or doctor’s office. Have someone keep a log of your symptoms, when they began, and how long they lasted until you’re able to get medical attention.
If you receive a stroke diagnosis, treatment will aim to prevent you from having another one. Your doctor may prescribe blood thinners. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking and losing weight may also be part of your treatment plan.
Viral and bacterial infections can result in facial numbness. Dental problems, including infections underneath your gums and in the roots of your teeth, can also cause this symptom Other infections that can lead to a feeling of numbness over one side or all over your face include:
These infections need to be treated in order for your face to feel normal again. Your doctor may need to do a culture test or refer you to an infectious disease specialist or dentist to address an infection that’s causing facial numbness.
Taking certain drugs can have the side effect of temporary facial numbness. Prescription drugs and other substances that can have this effect include:
- chemotherapy drugs
- amitriptyline (Elavil) and other antidepressants
Even if numbness isn’t a listed side effect on a medication you’re taking, it’s possible that beginning a new prescription is the reason your face feels numb. Speak to your doctor if you suspect that you’re experiencing this side effect.
A direct blow to your head, a concussion, and other trauma to your brain can damage the nerves in your spinal cord and at the base of your brain. These nerves control the feeling in your face. In most cases, facial numbness isn’t caused by a head injury, but it does happen. Facial numbness can set in on one or both sides of your face up to 24 hours after head trauma.
You’ll need to describe the injury in detail to your doctor. After the initial physical examination, your doctor may order brain imaging such as an MRI. Treatment will vary according to the severity of nerve damage, if any is found.
Numbness in your face or mouth can be caused by contact allergies. In the case of a food allergy, facial numbness can be accompanied by numbness or tingling in your tongue and lips.
If your doctor is trying to identify a new allergic reaction, you may be referred to an allergy specialist or a doctor who specializes in the immune system. Facial numbness of this type will be directly connected to exposure to the allergen, and should resolve on its own within 24 hours.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by tick bites. The tick must be on your skin for at least 24 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes the infection into your bloodstream. One of the symptoms of untreated Lyme disease can be facial numbness.
By the time you experience facial numbness as a result of Lyme disease, the rash from a tick bite would be long gone and you’d have other symptoms of the condition. These symptoms could include:
- mental fogginess
- difficulty concentrating
- tingling or numbness in other parts of your body
If your doctor thinks you might have Lyme disease, you’ll have blood and spinal fluid tests to determine if your body has produced antibodies to fight the bacteria that causes the condition and whether you show ongoing signs of an infection.
Treatment for Lyme disease can help relieve some symptoms, including facial numbness. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat infection from the bacteria.
Many conditions that cause facial numbness, such as contact allergies and drug side effects, resolve on their own within 24 hours. Some conditions, like MS, Lyme disease, and Bell’s palsy, may require ongoing treatment.
If you have any reason to suspect that you have an underlying health condition leading to your face to feel numb, contact a doctor right away. There are some conditions where prompt treatment will make all the difference in your long-term outlook.