A person can treat and prevent their allergies, once they know what is causing them, even though they are annoying when they happen.
Allergies may be especially common on the face because the skin is more sensitive than elsewhere, and because of various face creams and other products people use on their faces.
This article looks at the symptoms and causes of allergic reactions on the face along with how they can be treated and prevented.
Red spots on the skin, swollen lips, itchy eyes, and puffy skin may be symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction differ, depending on the trigger substance, otherwise known as an allergen.
A person could develop a red rash in one area after using face cream, while someone else who inhales pollen could have a widespread rash.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction on the face can include:
- a rash or hives
- puffy, raised areas of skin
- small, red spots on the skin
- an itchy, stinging, or burning sensation
- swollen lips and eyes
- swollen tongue
- red, itchy eyes
- watering eyes
- dry, or cracked skin
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may develop within seconds or minutes, or gradually over several hours. Symptoms are usually mild, but in rare cases can cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening condition.
Treatment depends on the type of allergy and the location and severity of the symptoms. The main treatments include:
Antihistamines can reduce the swelling, redness, and itchiness of rashes and hives on the face. They can also help with symptoms, such as watering eyes, stuffy nose, and breathing difficulty.
If a person knows they will be in contact with an allergen, they can take an antihistamine beforehand to prevent or reduce an allergic reaction.
Antihistamines are available as tablets, creams, eye drops, and nasal sprays, and can be bought online.
Creams, sprays, and eye drops that contain corticosterone can help to reduce inflammation. They can open up the airways in the nose to help with breathing difficulties.
Mild corticosteroid creams are available online, while stronger creams and oral steroids usually need a prescription.
Over-the-counter or prescription emollients can help moisturize dry skin and reduce itching. They also form a film that protects against allergens. A range of rash creams is available for purchase online.
A cool, damp cloth can relieve itchiness and reduce inflammation. These can be placed on the skin whenever necessary to ease discomfort.
For severe or persistent allergies, a doctor may recommend immunotherapy. Here, a person is gradually exposed to an increasing dose of an allergen for up to 3 years so that the body can get used to it. This can reduce how severe and how long the symptoms last.
Pet allergies may be prevented by vacuuming the home regularly.
Usually, allergic reactions can be prevented, either by taking antihistamines before coming into contact with allergens or by avoiding the allergens. Antihistamines are available for purchase over the counter or online.
Different allergies may be prevented in different ways:
- Food allergies. Always read the labels and be careful when eating at restaurants, bakeries, delis, and street stalls. Make sure people are aware of the allergy. If unsure about food, ask for more information or do not eat it.
- Animals. Limit pets to a single area of the home or try to keep them outside. Wash them and their bedding regularly. Vacuum the home frequently.
- Hay fever. Stay indoors and avoid grassy areas when the pollen count is high. If this is unavoidable, take an antihistamine and wear wraparound sunglasses to limit pollen reaching the eyes.
- Dust mites. Use allergy-proof duvets and pillows. If possible, remove carpets and fit wooden floors. Vacuum floors and change the bedding regularly.
- Mold. Keep rooms and wardrobes dry and well-ventilated. Dry clothes outside. Where possible, tackle damp and condensation problems.
Pictures of various allergic reactions
Image credit: James Heilman, MD, (2008).
Image credit: Nikki Tysoe, (2009).
Image credit: Marco Raaphors, (2007).
Long grass allergy
Image credit: Josh Larios, (2009).
Image credit: Parrchristy, (2010).
Skin cream reaction
Image credit: Emma Jane Hogbin Westby, (2006).
Topical steroids reaction
Image credit: SalishSea2/Corinna Kennedy, (2012).
Poison oak reaction
Image credit: Abm6868, (2015).
Allergic reactions on the face can be triggered by something that is eaten, inhaled, or rubbed onto the skin. A person might develop an allergic reaction on their face for the following reasons:
Direct contact with an allergen
When the skin reacts after direct contact with a substance, this is called contact dermatitis. It is common on the hands and face.
This allergic reaction can occur after contact with:
- soaps, detergents, and toiletries
- makeup and other beauty products
- metal jewelry
- latex and rubber
- solvents or chemicals
- dust and soil
Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
- inflamed skin
- small blisters in some cases
Symptoms usually appear within 48 hours, but they can appear almost immediately. The first exposure to a substance may not always elicit a reaction.
- dust mites, which are microscopic insects that live in beds, carpets, and soft furnishings
- spores produced by mold and fungi
- urine, saliva, and dead skin flakes (dander) of animals
Food allergies are caused by the immune system reacting incorrectly to a particular food or ingredient. They are more common in young children, but new food allergies can develop in adults too.
Food allergies can cause facial symptoms, such as:
- red, itchy hives
- swollen lips and eyes
- a swollen tongue
- breathing difficulties
- pale or blue skin
Common food allergens include eggs, milk, nuts, and shellfish. However, any food can cause an allergic reaction, including fruits and vegetables.
In severe cases, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis.
A person can also have an allergic reaction to certain medications, whether they are injected or swallowed. Symptoms are similar to those of food allergies and can also result in anaphylaxis.
Common drug allergies include:
- penicillin and related antibiotics
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
- chemotherapy drugs
Itchy eyes, watering eyes, and pain around the nose may be caused by hay fever.
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to pollen. This is usually a reaction to tree, grass, or weed pollen. It is triggered when the pollen is inhaled or touches the face or eyes
Hay fever can have a big effect on the face, with symptoms including:
- itchy, red eyes
- watering eyes
- itchy or irritated nose, mouth, throat, and ears
- pain or pressure around the nose, forehead, and temples
Hay fever tends to affect people the most in the months of spring and summer when the pollen count is high.
Atopic eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis, is characterized by red, dry, itchy, skin. The rash can affect any part of the body, including the face.
Eczema is linked to dry skin and tends to run in families. It is more common in children but can also develop in adults of any age. It is usually a long-term condition and is prone to flare-ups.
Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by:
- food allergies
- dust mites
- detergents, soaps, and toiletries
- certain fabrics
- changes in hormone levels, such as during periods or pregnancy
- cold and dry weather
The severity and coverage of the rash vary among people. Scratching the rash can result in the skin oozing fluid. Scratching also increases the risk of infection.
A person should see a doctor If they have severe, recurring, or worsening allergic reactions. The doctor will examine the symptoms and take a medical history, including other allergic conditions and family history.
If the allergy is severe or the cause is unknown, it may be necessary for a doctor to refer someone to a specialist clinic. Possible allergy tests include:
- skin prick testing
- blood tests
- patch testing
- elimination diet
- challenge testing
Allergies are also more likely to occur in people who have:
- other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema
- a family history of allergies or allergic conditions
What is an allergic reaction?
Allergies are very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergies each year.
Allergic reactions occur when the body's immune system mistakes a harmless substance, such as food or pollen, for something dangerous and tries to fight against it.
When the immune system detects an allergen, it produces an antibody called immunoglobulin. This causes the body to create a chemical called histamine in the skin and other areas of the body. Histamines cause many of the key symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Researchers do not fully understand why this happens, or why allergies are on the rise. One theory suggests that it could be due to living in cleaner, more hygienic environments, which give the immune system less work to do.
Many things can cause an allergic reaction on the face. Most reactions are mild and can be treated with an antihistamine.
Speak to a doctor for severe, worsening, or recurring allergies. A very severe reaction could be a sign of anaphylaxis, which requires emergency medical attention
Preventing allergic reactions largely involves taking antihistamines and avoiding known allergens.