Medically reviewed by Daniel More, MD
You may notice that your face appears puffy or more round on certain days. This can happen as your weight and hormones fluctuate or when you experience allergies or a temporary illness. However, if the puffiness persists or if your facial swelling is severe, this may be a sign of moon face—a condition that causes your face to become rounder due to fluid buildup.
Moon face causes swelling in your face as a result of excess fluid buildup. You may notice extra puffiness in your cheeks, forehead, and chin. When your facial features enlarge, it creates a round shape that mimics the look of the moon—hence the name, "moon face."
It’s important to pay attention to the way your face feels. Sometimes, moon face is mild and not easily noticeable. But other times, moon face can be painful or affect your breathing. Keep track of any pain and swelling you're experiencing. Before seeing a healthcare provider, it can also help to document the following:
What pain you're feeling
Where the pain is located
When your swelling began
What improves and worsens your pain and swelling
Any other symptoms that accompany puffiness
These notes can help your healthcare provider understand the severity of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment options.
A variety of factors can cause moon face—ranging from mild everyday reactions to more serious conditions.
Underlying infections and medical conditions can cause facial swelling and increase your risk of moon face. These include:
Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye”
Infection in your salivary glands (the glands that produce saliva)
Sinusitis, or swelling of your sinuses
Styes that cause swelling around your eye
Tooth abscesses, or infections in your teeth that cause a pocket of pus
Cellulitis, a type of bacterial skin infection
Among the most common causes of moon face is Cushing's syndrome—a condition that occurs when your body makes too much cortisol, which is commonly referred to as the "stress hormone." One of the most common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome is moon face, but you might also experience darkening of the skin, weight gain, and muscle weakness.
If your body doesn’t produce enough cortisol, your healthcare provider may prescribe corticosteroids. These anti-inflammatory drugs can also help treat several conditions such as arthritis, severe allergies, multiple sclerosis, lupus, certain kinds of cancer, and other conditions related to your lungs, skin, eyes, blood, kidneys, thyroid, stomach, or intestines.
One of the most common corticosteroids is Deltasone (prednisone). Excess amounts or long-term use of corticosteroids can cause moon face to occur.
Medical Side Effects
Besides corticosteroids, other types of medication and medical treatment can also cause moon face. Specifically, you may develop moon face as a reaction to a blood transfusion or a range of medications, such as Bayer (aspirin) and certain types of antibiotics. You can also experience moon face after head, nose, or jaw surgery.
Both severe malnutrition (not eating enough to get the nutrients you need) and obesity may lead to moon face. Some people with malnutrition develop kwashiorkor—a condition that can lead to swelling of your arms, legs, and face. This can happen because not eating enough food or drinking enough water can cause low levels of fluid and force your body to retain excess salt, which can cause swelling.
People with obesity may also be more likely to develop moon face. It's estimated that approximately three out of every four people with Cushing's syndrome experience obesity. When Cushing's syndrome causes excess weight on your body, you may also be at an increased risk of developing fat deposits in your face.
Other common causes of moon face include:
Burns or injuries to the face
Angioedema—a condition that causes swelling under the skin due to an issue with your immune system functioning
Myxedema, which is a severe form of hypothyroidism—a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland doesn't make enough thyroid hormone and causes symptoms like skin changes and weight gain
Superior vena cava (SVC) syndrome—a condition that causes facial and neck swelling because your SVC (a type of vein in your body) becomes compressed and isn't able to drain or pump blood back to the heart
How to Get Rid of Moon Face
Because moon face is a symptom of other underlying health conditions, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider to understand what's causing your facial swelling and learn about treatment options.
For example, if your moon face is the result of an injury, you might try using ice to reduce the swelling. In addition, propping your head up with extra pillows while you sleep may help improve fluid drainage and reduce swelling. But, if a condition like Cushing's syndrome is causing moon face, medication or surgery may help improve facial swelling.
How to Prevent Moon Face
There isn't one surefire way to prevent moon face—mostly because a variety of factors can cause symptoms to develop. If you are at risk or concerned about a particular cause of facial swelling, speak with your healthcare provider about your options. If you’re prescribed a corticosteroid, there are particular steps you can take to reduce your chances of developing moon face.
When taking a prescribed corticosteroid like prednisone, pay close attention to your symptoms and let your healthcare provider know early if you are developing any symptoms of Cushing's syndrome, including moon face. The earlier they are able to recommend alternative treatment, the better your chances of preventing long-term swelling.
When to Contact a Healthcare Provider
It’s important to seek care from your provider if you have specific symptoms associated with moon face, including:
Swelling that comes on suddenly, causes pain, or is severe
Signs of infection, including fever, redness, or tenderness
What To Expect at Your Appointment
If you seek medical care for moon face, your healthcare provider will likely begin your appointment by taking your medical history and performing a physical exam. They may also ask about:
How long your face has been swollen and when it began
Things that improve or worsen your symptoms
What allergies you have
Which medications you take
Any recent facial injury, medical test, or surgery
Additional symptoms you're experiencing
Once they gather this information, your provider can order the necessary testing, understand the underlying cause of your symptoms, and offer treatment options for moon face.
A Quick Review
Moon face is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up under your skin and causes facial swelling. Several factors can cause moon face, like reactions to medication or surgery, allergies, infections, weight changes, and underlying health conditions. If you have symptoms of moon face or notice your face getting puffy without a clear reason, talk to your provider. They can help you pinpoint the underlying cause and recommend treatment.
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