Swelling of the salivary glands from frequent vomiting can cause the cheeks to swell. This is sometimes known as “bulimia face.”
Bulimia nervosa is a mental health condition and eating disorder that involves episodes of binge eating followed by purging.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, statistics suggest approximately 1% of females and 0.1% of males have bulimia.
Purging can include:
- self-induced vomiting
- misuse of laxatives or diuretics
- extreme physical activity
Self-induced vomiting can cause swelling of the parotid salivary glands, which can cause the appearance of cheek swelling.
This article explains the connection between bulimia and cheek swelling.
The neck has three salivary glands:
- parotid glands
- sublingual glands
- submandibular glands
Swelling of the parotid glands, and sometimes the submandibular glands, may occur in bulimia. This swelling can cause the face and cheeks to swell.
Swelling of the parotid glands occurs in around 50% of people who engage in self-induced vomiting. Swelling often occurs after a person has stopped vomiting.
There are various other complications and physical symptoms associated with bulimia, particularly with self-induced vomiting. These
- hypotension, which is low blood pressure
- dry skin
- dental erosion
- calluses on the hands, known as Russell’s sign
- hair loss
After a person vomits, the salivary glands often swell. Salivary glands increase the production of saliva to prepare for vomiting. Extra saliva helps protect the mouth from the acidity associated with vomit.
When a person frequently vomits, the salivary glands increase in size. The growth happens to compensate for their chronic activation.
The increase in size of the salivary glands can cause the cheeks and jaw to look swollen.
The treatment approach for swollen salivary glands
In acute cases, people with salivary gland swelling may use treatments such as:
- warm compresses
- pain relief medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- sialogogues, which are medications that help promote the secretion of saliva
In chronic cases, treatment is similar to acute treatments plus the addition of oral health care.
Treating bulimia itself is also important. Treatment for bulimia and other eating disorders typically includes therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
A person with bulimia can speak with a healthcare professional for physical and mental health treatment and support.
Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.
Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.
Many other resources are also available, including:
- The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- F.E.A.S.T., which provides support and educational resources to friends and family who want to help someone living with an eating disorder
Bulimia and self-induced vomiting increase the risk of complications that affect all body systems. Treating bulimia can help reverse many of these complications.
Ways bulimia and self-induced vomiting can affect the body include:
- calluses on the hands or dry skin
- redness and discoloration of the eyes, ears, and nose
- sore throat, dry cough, and difficulty swallowing
- dental erosion
- gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
- hair loss
The following are some questions people frequently ask about the effects of eating disorders, such as bulimia.
What does throwing up do to your face?
Frequent vomiting can cause swelling of the salivary glands due to chronic activation. This can cause swelling of the cheeks and jaw, sometimes known as “bulimia face.”
Which eating disorder has the highest mortality?
Anorexia nervosa is another eating disorder. According to a
Eating disorders have the second highest rate of death among all mental health conditions. Opioid use disorder has the highest risk of death.
Bulimia is an eating disorder that includes cycles of binge eating and purging. Purging may include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, and misuse of laxatives.
One symptom of bulimia is swollen cheeks due to the overactivation of the salivary glands from frequent vomiting.
Bulimia can affect every body system, including the skin, digestive, mouth, and cardiac systems.
Treatment for salivary gland and cheek swelling includes NSAIDs, warm compress, hydration, and oral health care.
It is also important that a person seeks treatment for bulimia itself. Recovery is possible with therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.