Here are four conditions that produce symptoms that can be found on the face, along with what to look for, when to see a physician – and when to call 911.
- Stroke – The 5th leading cause of death, stroke occurs when blood vessels to the brain rupture or are blocked by a clot and the brain cannot get the blood – and oxygen – it needs. If the person’s facial expressions are uneven, they are experiencing arm weakness or numbness, and their speech is slurred or hard to understand this may be a sign of stroke. If they have these signs or are having trouble seeing, walking or demonstrate signs of confusion, call 911 immediately.
- Swelling – Inflammation in the face can indicate several things from sinus infections, an abscess, or even anaphylaxis and anaphylactic shock. Swelling around the eyes and sinuses may indicate congestion in the sinus cavities, while inflammation in the mouth and jaw or around teeth may indicate an abscess. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include swelling in the face, mouth and throat, difficulty breathing or swallowing, hives and rash, anxiety, wheezing, dizziness and palpitations or irregular heartbeat. If you suspect someone may be experiencing anaphylactic shock, call 911 immediately for medical assistance.
- Cancer – Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common skin cancers and tend to be found on the head, face, neck, hands and arms. Melanoma is more dangerous, but less common. Carcinomas are typically red or pink bumps that ooze, flake and appear as sores, while melanomas tend to be raised or flat, appear like moles, and are often brown or black. Some melanomas are actually skin colored. Look for spots and moles that are asymmetrical, have irregular or scalloped boarders, variations in color, and are larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser. Any unusual spots, moles or discolorations – especially on the face – should be evaluated by a physician to determine if they are malignant.
- Bell’s Palsy – Affecting 30,000 to 40,000 people per year, Bell’s Palsy is a disorder of the nerve (facial or seventh cranial nerve) that controls movement of the muscles in the face. Thought to be an inflammation of the nerve, Bell’s Palsy may be connected to the herpes zoster virus. Symptoms include difficulty controlling one side of the face, including being unable to close one eye or difficulty eating or making facial expressions. The cause of this condition is not clear, but it has been connected to such conditions as HIV infection, Lyme disease and middle ear infections.
Our faces show the world who we are, but can also give us a glimpse into our state of health. These serious conditions have symptoms that appear on the face first and, if we know what to look for, we can visit a physician. Or, when necessary, seek out emergency medical assistance!