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.
What causes facial pain?
Facial pain can be due to anything from an infection to nerve
damage in the face. Common causes for 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 for facial pain include:
- herpes zoster, or shingles
- a migraine
- a sinus infection
- a nerve disorder
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.
What are the types of face pain?
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.
When is face pain an emergency?
If you experience facial pain that appears suddenly and radiates
from the chest or the left arm, call 911 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.
How is facial pain diagnosed?
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. This test is effective in diagnosing ulcers and glaucoma.
Facial pain caused by the heart
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.
What are the treatment options associated with facial pain?
Facial pain generally goes away once a diagnosis and treatment
plan is in effect. 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
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
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication can treat facial pain
caused by cluster headaches or migraine headaches. 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.