What Are the Common Causes of Skin Swelling?

A person with a swollen knee.
Allergic reactions to materials such as latex can cause skin swelling.
If an open cut lets in bacteria, it can become swollen and infected.
Exposure to poison ivy may cause the skin to swell.
Eczema is a common cause of skin swelling.
Article Details
  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

Many potential causes of skin swelling exist. Among the most common are allergies, eczema, and contact dermatitis. A person may also develop skin swelling because of a bacterial infection called cellulitis. In many cases, skin swelling isn’t dangerous. Severe skin swelling and swelling that is caused by a serious infection, however, may prove life-threatening.

Allergies are among the common causes of skin swelling. When a person has an allergy, his immune system responds to the allergen as if it is a foreign invader. The immune system causes the release of certain chemicals in the body, including one called histamine. When histamine is released under the skin, it causes the skin to swell and may lead to redness and itching. In some cases, this can be life-threatening.

Another common cause of swollen skin is eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis. This chronic condition is marked by inflammation of the skin that is accompanied by itching. It is most common in children, but some people do experience it later in life as well. Eczema is often seen in people who have allergies such as hay fever or suffer from asthma. Though it can appear on any part of the skin, the skin on the arms and behind a patient’s knees is the most likely to be affected.

Ad

Contact dermatitis, which develops when something that touches the skin causes it to become inflamed, is another common condition that may result in skin swelling. There are numerous substances that can produce this reaction. For example, a person may develop contact dermatitis because of a soap, detergent, or perfume. Some people also develop it after their skin has been in contact with certain types of jewelry or poisonous weeds such as poison oak. The red, itchy rash and swelling caused by contact dermatitis isn’t dangerous and cannot be passed on to others.

An individual may also suffer from swelling of the skin as a result of a condition called cellulitis, which is caused by bacteria. It is marked by swollen, reddened areas of skin that feel warm and sore when touched. This skin infection may start with just one area and then quickly spread to other parts of the skin. Cellulitis can affect any part of a person’s body, but the skin of the legs are the most frequently affected. If cellulitis is not successfully treated in a timely manner, it can threaten the life of the patient.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

anon297775
Post 12

My lump is different. It is directly where my nose and cheek lip connect. I have experienced no pain at all, and I cannot even ascertain if the swelling is increasing or not. It's been two years or thereabouts, with no increase and no reduction. What must I do? Do I ignore it completely or go in for surgery?

FernValley
Post 11

There is a parenting blogger, I forget his name, who wrote some really interesting things about skin swelling and eczema awhile ago, and his solution.

This man wrote that he realized his skin issues flared up horribly whenever he ate seafood or fish of any kind; once he had stopped, though, it cleared up better than he'd seen in years. Instead this man, who was in his early 30s or so at the time, decided to try pursuing a kosher diet; I don't think he was actually Jewish, he just wanted to try living kosher. Not only did his eczema disappear almost entirely, but he also lost a lot of excess weight.

His conclusion was that maybe the kosher diet is as much about health in the Bible as about following rules; and he encourages people to follow it if they have weight or other health problems, to see if it related to non-kosher foods.

JaneAir
Post 10

@Azuza - I think problems that cause skin swelling are actually fairly common. I know I've had several of the things you listed.

I think for me, hives are the worst. I once had an allergic reaction that was so severe that I broke out into hives all over my body. Yes, all over. Everywhere. It was awful, and very noticeable. Luckily it was during the winter, but that didn't help much.

I went to the doctor right away, but I totally put off taking the medicine they prescribed me. I had to take prednisone, which I hate taking. But at that time, it was necessary.

Azuza
Post 9

Reading this article made me realize I've dealt with a lot of problems that cause skin swelling over the years. I think the only think (knock on wood) that I haven't deal with is cellulitis!

I've had eczema, allergic reactions, hives, and a staph infection. I can't decide which one was worse, seriously. The staph infection was pretty unpleasant, because I had a bunch of different swollen areas on my legs. At first I thought I just had razor bumps or something, but then the swelling got pretty severe.

I wish I hadn't waited to go to the doctor. I ended up taking antibiotics for kind of awhile because I waited for so long.

animegal
Post 8

@lonelygod - I had one of those allergy skin tests done before, and you're right, they do itch like crazy if you're allergic to anything. The only reason I got my test was because I ate a salad and afterward I had a skin rash and swelling all over.

One great thing about allergy skin tests is that they are really good at helping your doctor figure out what allergies treatment you need. I ended up going in for allergy shots after my test and my life is a lot better for it. I can actually make it through spring now without skin symptoms, such as hives.

lonelygod
Post 7

Has anyone else had an allergy skin test before? I recently had one done and the symptoms of an allergy were to have the skin swell a bit and itch.

What they do during the test is use a very fine blade to make tiny cuts into your skin, more like scratches really. Then they place drops of different allergens on the scratches and wait to see which ones puff up.

I found out that animal dander and strawberries both cause allergy symptoms on my skin, as the areas pricked with the allergen swelled up really badly. The itching was also really intense. I am glad that test is over with.

candyquilt
Post 6

I get really bad swelling whenever I have an insect bite or get a flu vaccination. I guess it's a mild allergic reaction, although it has never been life threatening for me.

I've became more aware of this in the past year especially. Last summer, I went on a vacation to the coast and stayed in a small cabin by the beach. There were a lot of bugs and bees around and unavoidably I got bit. I noticed that the skin around every bite became very swollen. It was crazy because the part that was bit would be tiny, but the swollen area would be huge.

The swelling also lasted for a really long time. I had one bug bite behind my leg that remained swollen, red and itchy for two weeks.

I had a really similar reaction to my flu vaccine this year. I get the vaccine every year, but this year, that area on my arm became very red and swollen for about a week.

I don't know if it has to do with my immune system or if I'm encountering things that I'm now slightly allergic to, but I'm experiencing swelling more often than I used to.

seag47
Post 5

Has anyone here ever had an allergic reaction to medication? I did, and I swelled up so much that it scared me. I thought my skin was going to explode!

I had applied a yeast infection medication one night, and by the next morning, the condition had gotten worse. It itched even more, and I noticed that the area was starting to swell.

I knew that I needed to see a doctor, but I wanted to wait until the next day. However, by that evening, I had swelled up so much that it hurt to sit down. I had to go to the emergency room.

All they did was tell me that I did have an allergic reaction to the medication. Well, I knew that. They told me to take some over the counter antihistamines, and they gave me pain pills and a powder to treat the itching.

In a case where you are swelling up, it's usually best to seek help. However, I could have saved about five-hundred dollars by just staying home and taking antihistamines. I wish I had known that before going.

wavy58
Post 4

The skin under my arms swelled up after I tried a new kind of deodorant. I couldn't find my regular brand in the store, so I picked something that resembled it. I had never had an allergic reaction to a deodorant before, so I was surprised when it happened.

I put it on right after shaving, which may have made the situation worse. I probably had some tiny nicks in my skin, and the deodorant soaked into them, swelling me up from the inside as well as the outside.

My underarms turned bright red, and they burned painfully. They also itched, but I could not scratch them because it hurt too much.

I washed the deodorant off and applied aloe vera gel to the area. It took about two days, but the swelling did go down.

lighth0se33
Post 2

It depends on who you ask. I am also severely allergic to poison ivy, and I asked a couple of doctors about a vaccine, but they said there was no such thing.

I got an appointment with an allergist, and he said that they did have a vaccine for it. He told me that a scientist in Mississippi had come up with the vaccine, and not many people knew about it, because it was still relatively new.

He had the vaccine in his office, so he gave it to me. While I have had a couple of itchy spots here and there from poison ivy this year, it's nothing compared to what I used to have. It goes away on its own, and I think my days of running to the doctor every time I have it are over.

orangey03
Post 1

My husband is severely sensitive to poison ivy. If any part of his skin even gently brushes up against it, he gets an extremely itchy rash. His skin turns red, and raised bumps appear within the rash.

Though there are several types of over the counter medicines available to treat the symptoms of poison ivy, his is so severe that he has to see a doctor every time he gets an outbreak. He has to have a shot and take steroid pills for several days to rid himself of the rash.

One of his coworkers told him that there is a vaccine for poison ivy that is supposed to work for a whole year. Has anyone else heard of this?

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email