Woke up looking like a puffer fish? While you know that chugging back a few cocktails or gaining weight can make your face look puffier than usual, there are a few other, more surprising reasons why you might be swollen. Here, Rosalyn Stewart, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, weighs in on some of the most common causes of facial swelling—and what to do about it.
If you the lining of your sinuses—the air-filled spaces between the eyes and behind your forehead, nose, and cheekbones—becomes inflamed or infected, they can get clogged with mucus. The pressure causes a dull ache around your eyes, greenish-yellow discharge from your nose, pounding headaches—and sometimes, a swollen face. Most of the time, the infection is caused by a virus (translation: you don’t need antibiotics). Instead, rest, drink lots of fluids, and try an over-the-counter antihistamine, says Stewart.
Having a cracked or chipped tooth or an untreated cavity can allow bacteria to sneak into the pulp—the soft innards—of your tooth, where they can multiply, says Stewart. The infection results in a collection of pus (ew) and swelling around the tooth or gums. You’ll have a wicked toothache and jawline swelling. Your dentist can prescribe antibiotics and will likely have to perform a root canal to remove the infected nerve; in the meantime, saltwater rinses and OTC painkillers can make you more comfortable.
You might know cortisol best as the infamous stress hormone. But it also helps regulate your blood pressure, blood sugar, and a slew of other things. When too much of it gets pumped out by your adrenal glands, it can lead to Cushing’s, a condition that affects women nearly three times more often than men. It’s characterized by a round, moon-shaped face, skin that bruises easily, and thicker or more body hair. It often crops up in people that have been on steroids like prednisone to treat a condition like an autoimmune disease, says Stewart. If you’ve been on the meds and develop symptoms, see your M.D. Most of the time, the condition can be treated with medication or surgery.
Beyond red eyes and a rapidly emptying tissue box, an allergic reaction to food, pollen, a medication, or any other substance can cause facial inflammation, especially around your eyes and nose, says Stewart. OTC meds can dial down inflammation but try meditation, too—research shows that frequently frazzled people are more likely to have allergy symptoms.
Nope, not dimpled skin. Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that can cause your face (or anywhere else on your body) to rapidly inflate and become hot and red, says Stewart. If you develop these symptoms—and especially if the swelling spreads—high-tail it to the emergency room, stat. Left untreated (a weeklong course of antibiotics should clear it up), the illness can be deadly.
Sounds old school, but outbreaks of this highly contagious illness have been seen across the country. If you come down with it, you’ll likely have a headache, fever, and muscle aches in addition to telltale chipmunk cheeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your doc confirms the condition through a saliva swab or blood test, your only choice is to wait it out. Most cases resolve in about two weeks.
The butterfly-shaped gland in your throat pumps out a hormone that regulates your metabolism and body temperature. If it’s producing too little, metabolic changes can cause your subcutaneous (a.k.a underneath the skin) tissues to get bigger. “Everything fills out a little,” says Stewart. “The effect is often described as looking a bit like a toad.” You’ll probably also feel chilly and weak, and may notice that you have dry skin or that your periods have become irregular. Your doctor can run a simple blood test and prescribe medication if necessary.