Allergic reactions on face: symptoms, causes, treatment

Contact dermatitis (a rash on the skin), small bumps, and hives are all signs of an allergic reaction. While these symptoms may not bother you on other parts of your body, on your face they can be hard to ignore.

In this article, you’ll learn about facial contact dermatitis, how to recognize an allergic reaction, and when to seek medical attention.

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What Are Allergies?

Allergies develop when your immune system malfunctions and triggers a reaction to everyday substances rather than to viruses or bacteria. These reactions are a result of your body recognizing an allergen as a foreign and unwanted substance.

You can become allergic to many different things, from pollen to pets. Some common allergens are:

What is an Allergic Reaction?

An allergic reaction is the body’s response to exposure to an allergen. Your body produces antibodies against things it recognizes as harmful substances (allergens). These antibodies are called immunoglobulin E (IgE) and trigger the release of histamine and other inflammatory substances.

Histamines help cells in the immune system communicate and start the process of defending your body against harmful substances such as germs or allergens. Unfortunately, histamines can also cause symptoms of allergies or allergic reactions, such as a runny nose, sneezing, red itchy skin, or hives.

Symptoms of allergic reaction

Allergic reactions can take many forms. Some allergy symptoms include sneezing, watery or swollen eyes, a red nose, and skin reactions ranging from redness to hives.

Your body’s inflammatory response to an allergen can begin with a rash that can develop into contact dermatitis or hives. Hives, or hivescan range from small to large red bumps that are very itchy and can get worse if you scratch them.

In some cases (usually due to skin exposure to an allergen), contact dermatitis can occur days, weeks, or even months after initial exposure. However, contact dermatitis from irritants such as fragrances or chemicals is not considered an allergic reaction. This type of reaction usually appears with redness or a rash, but usually stops there.

What is Anaphylaxis?

Severe allergic reactions can lead to swelling in your mouth or throat, called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This reaction makes breathing difficult, involves a drop in blood pressure, and is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Other symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:

  • A warm sensation
  • Flush
  • Red skin
  • Itch
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Cramps
  • vomit
  • Diarrhea

Causes

Many foods, pollens, and medications can cause allergic reactions. Below are some of the most common allergens.

Animals and insects

Allergies to animals or insects are usually related to sensitivity to proteins found in animal skin cells (dander), saliva, and hair. Even when the animal is not there, these proteins can linger and provoke a reaction. You may also develop a reaction to things like pollen and dust on a pet’s fur.

Seasonal allergies

Seasonal allergies can be caused by mold and pollen that tend to increase in number at certain times of the year. Some of the most common sources of seasonal allergies are:

  • Grass pollen (e.g. Bahia, Bermuda, blue)
  • Tree pollen (e.g. cedar, oak, pine)
  • Ragweed (e.g. short, giant, western)
  • Weeds (e.g., burning bush, tumbleweed, lamb’s quarter)

Some years can be worse for seasonal allergies, and things like wind and rainfall can also affect severity.

Food

You can be sensitive to many foods, but only a true allergy should cause a visible reaction, such as a rash or hives on your face.

These eight foods account for about 90% of all food-related allergic reactions.

Medication

You can develop side effects or reactions to any medication, but several in particular are prone to triggering allergic reactions.

The most common medications associated with actual allergic reactions are:

  • Antibiotics, especially penicillins
  • Aspirin
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Opioid medicines
  • Some cancer drugs

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis (skin rash) can be caused by an irritant, an allergen, or both. In general, rashes fall into two categories: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. It can be helpful to know what’s causing your reaction — allergy or irritant — since avoidance is the primary strategy for prevention.

Eczema

Eczema is a form of dermatitis called atopic dermatitis and is also caused by an overreaction of the immune system. Like contact dermatitis, eczema can cause redness, itching, and the formation of a rash or small bumps. People with eczema often have a variety of allergies, but triggers such as fragrances in laundry detergents, cold weather, and even some textiles are the most common.

Can you be allergic and not know it?

Not all allergic reactions have a clear cause. A day in the sun can make your skin red, but that redness can also be caused by a medication you have taken. Sometimes symptoms of allergic reactions can be confused with symptoms of other conditions or exposures, especially if your symptoms are mild.

One way to tell if it’s an allergic reaction is to pay attention to the timing and consistency of the reaction. Reactions that occur within about an hour of exposure to a particular food or substance are likely to be allergic in nature.

When it’s an emergency

Any severe allergic reaction is considered an emergency when accompanied by hives or anaphylaxis. Hives are often a sign of a more serious allergic reaction and are sometimes a red flag for anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis, on the other hand, disrupts breathing and can be fatal. If you have a history of anaphylactic reactions to allergens, you may want to let your close friends and family know about your allergies and what you are doing to manage them.

Emergency allergy reaction

If you have severe allergies or a history of anaphylaxis, you and your healthcare provider should create an emergency plan. The first treatment for anaphylaxis and severe allergic reactions is usually epinephrine. You can use a preloaded syringe called an EpiPen, which you should carry with you at all times. Epinephrine may not fully resolve your allergic reaction and 911 should be called anyway.

Therapy

The best strategy for treating allergies is to avoid allergens. This requires allergy testing to pinpoint the exact allergens that could be causing your reaction. Once you know your triggers, you can avoid them, but you should also have a plan to manage unforeseen exposures.

Medications to treat allergies include:

You and your healthcare provider should determine the best course of treatment based on your specific allergies and their severity.

Overview

Allergic reactions on the face can include a rash or redness, small bumps, or hives. The body’s production of antibodies causes these symptoms after exposure to allergens, such as animals, foods, or pollens. Severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis (swelling of the mouth and throat), making it difficult to breathe.

The best way to manage allergies is to avoid specific triggers, which you can determine through allergy testing. However, you should always have a plan to manage allergies in case of exposure.

A word from very good

Redness or itchiness on your face isn’t always a cause for alarm, but if it’s caused by allergies, be aware of your triggers and how to manage your symptoms. If you get allergic reactions on your face, talk to your healthcare provider about the cause and the best treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does an allergic reaction last?

    Allergic reactions can last for hours to weeks. Long-lasting reactions are common with allergies that cause hives or chronic reactions such as eczema.

  • Can you stop an allergic reaction?

    Medications such as antihistamines and steroids can help treat your allergic reaction, but the symptoms of severe reactions can last for weeks.

  • What Are the Most Common Types of Allergies?

    Skin and seasonal pollen allergies are among the most common, but this can depend on age. Milk is the most common allergen for babies.

  • What Causes Allergies?

    Allergies are caused by a misfire of your immune system. When a normally harmless substance, such as pollen, enters your body, your immune system mistakes it for a serious threat and attacks. This attack results in inflammation, itching and other problems.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Medline Plus. Allergy.

  2. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. allergies.

  3. Medline Plus. Histamine: the substance that allergies are made of.

  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Hives.

  5. National Eczema Association. Contact eczema.

  6. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Allergic reactions.

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Pet allergies.

  8. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Seasonal allergies.

  9. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Food allergy.

  10. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Result.

  11. National Eczema Association. What is Eczema?

  12. Medline Plus. Allergic reactions.

  13. Yale medicine. Allergic contact dermatitis.


By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN

Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.

Allergic reactions on face: symptoms, causes, treatment

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