Big Red Bumps on the Face

Waking up to discover big red bumps on your face can be distressing. What are these bumps? Will they go away on their own? Do they mean I have a medical problem? Knowing what's causing the bumps will help you treat them appropriately.

A woman in a robe looking at herself in the mirror. (Image: Hongqi Zhang/iStock/Getty Images)

Acne

Acne is a common cause of big red bumps. This skin condition most often appears in teenagers, but the Mayo Clinic indicates that people of all ages can get acne. Red bumps due to acne tend to heal slowly and when one clears up, others may appear. Home treatment includes washing your face regularly with mild soap and over-the-counter treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide. For severe acne, you may need to see your doctor for a prescription medication.

Boils

If the bumps on the face are painful, they may be boils. A boil is caused by an infection under the skin, according to familydoctor.org, the web site of the American Academy of Family Physicians. A cluster of boils is known as a carbuncle. For home treatment, gently compress the boils with a warm cloth and apply antibiotic ointment. Familydoctor.org recommends calling your doctor if the boil fails to open and drain or if the redness spreads.

Hives

If the big red bumps on your face appeared suddenly, they may be hives. Hives are usually due to an allergic reaction, but familydoctor.org notes that hives can sometimes appear in people who are very nervous. "Itchiness can be a clue that the bumps are hives," says Amanda Jacobs, M.D., a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic. To relieve the itchiness, take an antihistamine and apply cool compresses. But, if the hives are accompanied by swelling of the lips or trouble breathing, get to a hospital immediately. You could be having a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, Jacobs warns.

Other Causes

A condition called erythema nodosum is another possible culprit, according to familydoctor.org. This condition causes large red bumps that may bruise and are tender to the touch. It can be caused by an infection or reaction to medicine. In men, ingrown hairs in the beard area can cause red bumps due to inflammation of the hair follicle, reports the American Academy of Dermatology, or the AAD. Shingles, a viral infection of the nerves, is another possibility if the bumps look like blisters and are very painful. Finally, suspect insect bites if the red bumps are itchy and appear after spending time outdoors during warm weather months.

Tips

If the red bumps don't go away in a few days or are very uncomfortable, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment, recommends Jacobs. In the meantime, don't pick or squeeze the bumps. This could cause an infection or scarring. Seeking medical treatment for severe acne will reduce the risk of scarring, the Mayo Clinic notes. "These days, we have a number of effective treatments for controlling acne, including prescription medications, laser and light therapy, and cosmetic procedures," Jacobs says.

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