Written by Cameron White, M.D., MPH
Numbness means an absence of feeling or loss of sensation. A numb face can be a symptom of one of many health conditions, including migraine and allergies.
Numbness on any part of the body usually occurs as a result of damage to the nerves or a disturbance in their function.
Problems with the nerves can sometimes be due to an underlying health condition or an allergic reaction, but they can also just be a response to being cold.
In this article, learn about the possible causes of a numb face, as well as their treatment options and when to see a doctor.
Migraine is a condition that causes severe headaches and other symptoms. Some people experience a numb face during a headache or one of the other migraine phases.
There are four migraine phases:
- Prodrome: Early warning signs of migraine include food cravings, unexplained mood changes, uncontrollable yawning, fluid retention, and increased urination.
- Aura: People in the aura phase may see flashing or bright lights or zigzag shaped lines. They may also experience weakness in the muscles. The aura stage might happen just before or during the headache phase, but not everyone with migraine experiences it.
- Headache: The pain tends to be on one side of the head, and it typically gets worse when the person moves. People may experience a painful throbbing or pulsing sensation. Other symptoms at this stage include numbness, nausea, and severe sensitivity to light, noises, and odors.
- Postdrome: The person can feel exhausted, weak, and confused for as long as a day after the migraine episode.
There is no cure for migraine, but people can take pain relievers and prescription medications to decrease the frequency of episodes and ease the symptoms.
During a migraine episode, a person may also find it beneficial to:
- rest with their eyes closed in a darkened room
- place a cool cloth or ice pack on their forehead
- drink plenty of water
Numbness due to migraine will usually resolve after the episode passes.
An allergic reaction happens when the body’s immune system reacts to an allergen, which is a foreign substance that generally does not pose a threat to health. An allergen might be something that the person has eaten, inhaled, injected, or touched.
Some allergies can cause the face to feel numb or tingly. Other typical symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- itchy eyes
- a runny nose
- a scratchy throat
- a rash
A severe allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis, and it is very dangerous. Someone having a severe allergic reaction will need emergency medical attention. They may experience:
- low blood pressure
- trouble breathing
- throat swelling
3. Bell’s palsy
Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary paralysis of the face. Damage or trauma to the facial nerves can cause this condition.
The symptoms tend to come on suddenly and get worse over 2 days. They vary but might include:
- weakness in the facial muscles
- the inability to feel or move one side of the face
- a drooping eyelid and corner of the mouth
- an altered sense of taste
- pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear
- ringing in one or both ears
- increased sensitivity to sound
- speech problems
- difficulty eating or drinking
In addition, some people with Bell’s palsy may experience a numb face.
Experts are not sure what causes Bell’s palsy, but it may have links to:
- the herpes simplex virus
- the flu
- chronic middle ear infections
- high blood pressure
- Lyme disease
Some cases are mild and will resolve without treatment within 2 weeks. Others may require medical treatment.
Doctors may recommend steroids, antiviral drugs, or pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen.
They may also suggest other interventions, which include physical therapy, facial massage, and acupuncture.
There are different types of stroke, but this condition always requires immediate medical attention.
A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts. An ischemic stroke usually occurs when a blood clot blocks one of these vessels or atherosclerosis narrows it.
When the brain does not get the blood that it needs, brain cells die.
A stroke will come on suddenly, and in some cases, it may cause facial numbness. The person may also experience the following symptoms:
- difficulty seeing
- difficulty moving
- a sudden severe headache
The American Stroke Association recommend using the letters “F.A.S.T” to learn the signs of a stroke. They stand for:
- Face drooping: The person’s face is drooping or is numb on one side. Their smile is uneven.
- Arm weakness: One arm is weak or numb. The person cannot raise both arms.
- Speech: The person slurs their speech.
- Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these stroke symptoms, they need emergency medical attention.
Anyone who thinks that they or another person is having a stroke should seek medical care immediately.
If an ischemic stroke is due to a blood clot, doctors will remove the blood clot using medication, a mechanical procedure, or both. To treat a hemorrhagic stroke, doctors may use drugs to control blood pressure and perform procedures or surgery to control the bleeding and increased pressure in the brain.
5. Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that affects the brain. MS damages the central nervous system and causes a variety of unpredictable symptoms, including numbness.
Some of the common symptoms of MS are:
- numbness or tingling in the face, body, arms, or legs
- fatigue or extreme tiredness
- dizziness and vertigo
- sexual problems
- pain and itching
- difficulty walking
- spasticity, which is stiffness or involuntary muscle spasms in the limbs
- vision problems
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- problems thinking or processing information
MS is a chronic condition. Many different treatments are available, and people tend to need them in the long term. These treatments come in the form of tablets, injections, and infusions. A doctor will develop an individualized treatment plan for a person with MS.
When to see a doctor
Anyone who could be having a stroke or a severe allergic reaction will need emergency medical attention.
A person who suspects that they have MS should speak to a doctor as soon as possible. People with Bell’s palsy should talk to a doctor and return if the symptoms do not go away within 2 weeks.
Individuals with migraine should speak to a doctor if they are experiencing new or more frequent symptoms, including numbness, or if they are having frequent or severe migraines.
A numb face is not usually anything to worry about — in some cases, it may just be due to being very cold. A mild allergic reaction is also a possible cause.
However, a person who experiences a numb face along with the symptoms of a more serious medical condition, such as MS, should speak to a doctor.
Anyone who spots the signs of a stroke or severe allergic reaction should call 911 immediately.