NOT Cellulitis On My Forehead

One great thing about blogging is that I can easily scan through old posts and remember what I was doing this time last year. Because I wrote a certain post, I’m able to remember more about that experience than I would have without the post. This proved helpful this week.

When I posted about my freak swollen forehead last May, partly it was for me, partly it was hoping there was someone else out there who’d experienced the same thing. Well, that post has been and continues to be my most viewed post. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I documented it (and still have the photos on my phone).

(See that post, my all time best-seller, here) (And the follow-up post)

Last summer, while visiting Alex in Florida, I found a very large swelling on my forehead one of the first days of my trip. As the swelling got bigger, I got scared and we went to the best rated ER in Fort Myers, Florida. After many hours spent waiting, the doctors assigned me a ‘catch all’ diagnosis (in my opinion) of Cellulitis, gave me a shot of antibiotics and showed us the door.

After doing certified Google research and reading the Cellulitis information sheet the hospital gave us, I was certain that I had not experienced Cellulitis. Besides having a large swelling, I did not have any of the other symptoms and none of the possible causes fit me.

Assuming that would be the first and last time I’d ever deal with a freak forehead swelling, I decided not to worry too much about a misdiagnosis of Cellulitis. The swelling went down, I felt fine – I didn’t care too much.

Enter Saturday night, post-bachelorette party.

After we’d gotten home for the night, I’d felt some raised skin at my hair line and called my sister in to feel it. ‘This is the same damn thing that happened last year!’ I told her. I chugged some water and hit the sack, hoping the swelling would stay put.

No such luck.

I woke up Sunday morning to find just about 1/2 of my forehead swollen. Again. The same damn thing that happened in Florida. This time, I knew for a fact it was NOT Cellulitis.

I debated Urgent Care vs. ER – which would be quicker so I could meet my brother who also happened to be in town visiting? – and decided on ER. We took Alex to Rose Hospital in Denver earlier in the year and had a fantastic experience, as far as ER visits go. Clean, efficient, high-quality care. If I was going to the hospital, I was going to Rose.

Photo at Rose Medical Center ER

[Chronological photos at bottom of the post]

Again, we received impeccable care at the Rose ER. I was checked in immediately and just as soon as I’d sat down to wait to be called, I was called and placed in a room. Minutes later, I was seen by a doctor (who actually LISTENED to me!), was given a prescription and was sent on my way. Just in time for brunch with my brother.

While the ER doctor couldn’t tell me exactly what was going on in my forehead or why this happened again, we identified 1 common theme: I’d been out in the sun for a few hours the day before each incident (paddleboarding in Florida, Fitness on the Rocks last weekend). Each time I’d put on sunscreen (different kinds, not an allergic reaction) but probably not enough.

The doctor surmised that this was a stress response to being in the sun for multiple hours, exercising, not having enough sunscreen, etc. It’s not an infection (Cellulitis) because my forehead did not hurt, was not tender and was not warm/hot like a sunburn in either instance. Likely not an allergic reaction because there was nothing that I’d done exactly the same both times this happened but that was different than any other day in my life or day in the sun. It basically felt like my forehead had popped out an inch. Like I’d been hit by a strong piece of wood.

The doctor also told me that because this was not an infection, antibiotics wouldn’t do anything to calm it. Instead he issued me a topical steroid cream to use to help the swelling go down.

On Sunday afternoon, I got a strong headache – a perfect storm of dehydration from Saturday night, heat from eating brunch outside and swelling in my face. I came home, took 2 ibuprofen, chugged water and slept with an ice pack on my forehead. And frankly, spent the beginning of the week doing only that.

Sunday overnight, the swelling moved from my forehead down to my eyebrows/eyes/nose region. For Monday night and Tuesday, I had no bridge of my nose due to swelling. I generally felt bad and tired – as these photos show. I look and felt rough.

But each day, the swelling reduced slightly and I’ve been feeling a tiny bit better. I even ventured out to a boxing class last night.

Today, I feel 100% again – I’m not tired, my eyes and head do not hurt and, most importantly, I don’t look like a Klingon anymore.

Because I’m not entirely sure what the culprit of this completely freakish forehead swelling is, I don’t know exactly what to avoid. I’m guessing extreme exposure to the sun, for one. I am pretty sure it has something to do with the sun and sunburns. (Can one be allergic to sunburns??) But outside of that, I’m at a loss to how to keep this from happening. As much as I love the side-eyed stares when I’m out, I’d prefer it not to be because I have a forehead twice the size of a Conehead.

So why am I posting these really unflattering photos of my forehead? Because so many people have found and commented on my initial Cellulitis post that I want to set the story straight. My forehead issue is NOT Cellulitis. If you Google ‘Cellulitis Photos’ (which I do not recommend unless you have a very strong stomach), my forehead does not even closely resemble a Cellulitis infection. So if you’ve found my post by searching ‘cellulitis + forehead’, ‘forehead + infection’, ‘swollen forehead’, etc (and many, many of you are!), please know that this is NOT cellulitis.

And if you’ve found my blog or post because you’re experincing a similar ailment, I recommend seeing your healthcare professional. I am not a doctor or have the any medical knowledge so nothing in my post should be taken as medical advice or fact. Only your doctor can access and diagnose you.


DAY 1: This is Sunday morning when I woke up. My forehead is 1/2 swollen.

DAY 1: Taken at the ER. Swelling has expanded slightly in the middle of my forehead. Does not hurt, is not tender. It feels hard, like my forehead is just popped out.

DAY 1: Sunday evening. Forehead is totally swollen. My head hurt and I generally felt sick Sunday – Wednesday morning. Fun story – I woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning to find ONE SMALL SPOT of my forehead not swollen. Like, dented in. It was hideous. Fortunately, it went away by 7 a.m. when I woke up.

DAY 2: Still swollen. Feeling like magoo BIG TIME. Swelling has moved south from my forehead to more at my eyebrows/eye area. My eyes feel really tired Day 2 and 3, I’m sure due to swelling. All I can do is sleep – I sleep late in the morning, take a nap after I get home from work and go to bed early.

DAY 3: I could not take a photo showing how swollen the bridge of my nose was. Still feeling terrible but swelling is slowly going down. More sleeping. Also, allergies start kicking in. I can’t stop sneezing and hacking up crap. Thanks, body.

DAY 4: I woke up feeling a million times better. Swelling is almost entirely gone. I don’t feel like I need to sleep 78 hours. I felt well enough to try a short run and boxing class. Both felt good, felt great after, too. Like a normal person and not a zombie.

DAY 5: I’m ME again! Swelling is 100% gone, I feel great. Not tired, not sleepy, not anything but normal lgsmash. I could even put myself together today (ie – find clothes that matched and fit, put make up on, brush my hair) for the first time this week.

Just like last year, it took about 5 days for the swelling to dissipate.


NOT Cellulitis On My Forehead — 57 Comments

    • Thank u for ur wonderful post! I like u are very fair skinned and live in Sydney, Oz I was out in the sunshine at the weekend and then two days later my forehead aswell as all the side of my face popped out an inch! I am in total shock as I have never seen myself react this way. I was googling to see if this had happened to anyone else when I came across your post! Thank u! U have made me feel much better! I am feeling very self conscious and would not even dare to send a friend a picture!

  1. This is so bizarre – i can’t believe they can’t pinpoint what it is. At least the sun exposure thing is a good start! I’m glad you’re feeling better though!

  2. holy cow that is NUTS. I have such a tiny forehead I’d probably never notice. I’m glad they seemed to have figured out what the deal was because this is scary.

  3. I’ve had the exact same thing happen to me several times since March. Doctor doesn’t know what it is….I am very tan, never burn, and almost always wear a visor while in the sun. So glad to find out that I’m not the only forehead freak(as my kids call me). Maybe someday we will find out what is causing this.

    • That is crazy! It is VERY refreshing to know I’m not the only ‘forehead’ freak out there! I am going to my primary care doctor soon and plan to ask about this issue – I will let you know what I find out!

    • Holy smokes, I’m sitting on my sunder in Barbados freaking out right now deciding if I want to waste money on a Dr. I am olive skinned and never use to be sensitive to the sun. I’m mid 30′s an had a baby a little over a year ago. My skin hormones or something has hanged. I got a sunburn a few days ago and I usually don’t burn. I have edema in my forehead right now and it’s totally freaking me out. Thinking I will take a Benadryl and some water pills and hope that helps.

    • This is only the second time it’s happened – I didn’t notice a substantial difference with the steroid cream and I stopped appying it. The ibuprfen helped, though! I am NOW taking an anti-histamine because my allergies are outta control right now. I blame forehead swelling.

  4. On the upside, you could deliver a wicked head-butt while in the midst of your affliction. Perhaps there is a future for you as one of The Avengers!

    Glad you are getting better…

  5. The exact same thing started happening to me on Monday after a music festival on Sunday. Thank God for your blog, before I came across it I was in tears thinking I was a freak of nature and the only one. This is the first time it’s ever happened to me. I’m hoping it’ll be gone by the end of the week. I have no health insurance so the doctor isn’t quite an option for me.

  6. This happened to me on the first day of our honeymoon. I looked like a cave woman. We spent the 1st day at the swim-up bar in the Dominican Republic. Next morning my forehead was slightly swollen. By day 3 it spread down to my eyebrows. I had a headache and took pain reliever. I thought it was a hangover. Dahhh. I never went to the doctor. It went away by the 5th day. It’s been 4 weeks and the only thing that remains is the itchy area at my hairline on my forehead. Do you have this problem?

  7. Hi, I had exactly the same, on day 2 of my holiday in Cuba, my forehead swelled then the next day it spread downwards across my eyes and cheeks and I looked dreadful, like I had gone several rounds with Mike Tyson. I had to attend the clinic where they told me I had an allergic reaction to the sun. I was given an injection and steroid tablets. Took about 4 days to go down and been ok since.

  8. My 13 year old son has the same symtoms. They are almost identical to yours. Doctors have also treated him for cellulitis and sinus/allergies. I am at a loss for what to do. He has had xrays which did not show anything. He says if he sleeps with his head elevated, it helps it to not swell as much. It swells over night everytime. If you get any answers, let me know and I will do the same.

  9. oh my gosh it is happening to me right now!its crazy its almost all the way across my forehead and seems to go down through out the day, very little but it does seem to change. It is about ahalf inch high and growing,a friend told me its from poor sirculation,and/ or dehydration . it does not hurt,unless i look in the mirror! please let me know if you ever figure this mystery out, thanks and good luck! karma

  10. Hi there. It is happening to me. I woke up this morning and my forehead was swollen like yours. A few hours after, it started moving close to my eyes…

    I suspected an allergic reaction + a sunburn (even if i am not red) as I spent the last few days camping on a beach. I didn’t have internet to google it so I looked at what I had. I first put aloe vera (directly from the plant) and drank a ginger + honey tea. Then I put a bag of ice and I took 2 pills of Benadryl. After a few hours, it is almost gone. hope it helps someone… ;)

    I hope this can help someone ;)

  11. OMG! I’ve just got back from my holiday and exactly the same thing happened to me (it happened a couple of years ago too). My head was very swollen to start with then the swelling travelled down to my eyes making them look very wide apart (It lasted about 3 days). I actually felt like a freak! This is definitely down to sun burn because its happened to me twice now and every time it’s happened my head got burnt from the sun. Hopefully I’ll learn from this….cover up more in the sun! I just worry about the long term damage as it’s quite a severe reaction! X

  12. This year in mexico the same thing happened to swollen forehead that lead into my face i was hidious! I didnt see a doc cause it happened within the first 5 days and i was there for 2 weeks so i figured it was severe wayter retention, we travel there every year for 2 weeks and ive never had it happen before im 28 and fairly healthy but id still like to know what has happened just in case it happens again next year i know it goes away but it would be nice to find out. I have currently been dianosised threw a CT scan with chronic sinusitis possibly that has something to do with it?

  13. I have the same issue with the swollen forehead. The only thing I could think of was I changed sunscreen that day. I used the spray waterproof sunscreen. I had a hat on most of the day. The swelling is getting worse as the day progresses but I’m sure it was from sun exposure from yesterday. I agree, totally freaky. I also went running earlier in the day so dehydration could also be a factor. I think I’ll try the ginger tea and ibuprofen and see how that works. I’m glad it’s nothing serious I guess. Everyone always thinks the worst whe it comes to head issues.

  14. Wow so glad I read this. The exact same thing has happened to me the last 2 years ive been on holiday. I am going to the same place on holiday this Saturday and am dreading it happening again. Will try all suggestions of antihistamines, keeping hydrated and extra suncare to see if it works. Wish me luck (dont want my brother calling me an avatar again lol)

  15. Thank you for this post. We were camping this weekend and my son’s face swelled in his forehead primarily between his nose… My husband told me he looked weird (I had been busy doing other things and hadn’t noticed). When he came back from playing in the sand, I noticed! I was very alarmed and perplexed. He was bitten very bad by mosquitos and I thought ti was a reaction to that, but that didn’t make sense because he didn’t have bites in that region. He had been in the sun a while, however, and we expected to leave sooner, so the sunscreen was packed!

  16. I’ve stumbled across your blog because I’m experiencing something very similar and haven’t the foggiest idea what it is.

    I’ve just returned home from Glastonbury festival 2013 and this Monday (1st July) woke up, ready to drive home…. With a swollen lip. Insect bite I thought?? But no puncture marks visible.

    However as I drove the 7 hrs home, my left ear started to swell and get hot until the cartilage disappeared!….. Then I felt a weird pressure on my forehead. Got home, ran to the mirror and got the shock of my life. A huge lump of fluid on my lower forehead (the size of my hand), very similar to yours.

    Went to the doctors that evening and was told it was extreme sunburn (despite the fact I’ve been using SPF 30 and wasn’t burnt!) that possibly reacted badly to the trimethoprim tablets I’m on for my acne. Made worse by dehydration and tiredness on the journey home. Was given steroids and told it would go disappear like magic.

    Well it’s now Wednesday and the swelling has dropped from my forehead, onto the bridge of my nose, eye sockets, eyebrows (the sinus route) No redness, no pain just a hell of a lot fluid pushing pressure on my eyes and nose. And now my neck and throat have become swollen. Oh and the headaches!

    Back to the doctors, and they say its an infection in my sinuses caused by a possible allergy to sun exposure.i was just wondering if you were on any medication when you were exposed to sunlight? Surely if it was connected to tablets, it wouldn’t be so localised?

    Anyway, your blog has given me hope that whatever it is will riddle it’s way out in the next few days. Until then, frozen bag of peas it is!! Xxx

  17. My 20 yr old grandson is dealing with the same problem. He will have knots or just one huge knot form on his forehead that will drain down into his eyes and nose. Sometimes he has a headache to go along with them. Has seen several doctors, cat scans and MRI’s with
    no diagnosis. The problem went away and has now returned to our dismay. He did take a fishing trip right before this happened again but did not seem to have a sunburn.

  18. I’m glad you are feeling better and this helped me out alot. 2 days ago i was out swimmng for almost 7 hours i forgot to rapply sunscreen after awhile and got this killer sunburn on my face. Yesterday night i realized in the middle of my forhead it is swollen a bit. i didnt think to much of it thinking i got bit. then this morning, it was still there, luckely it isnt any bigger. So i started to look things up seeing if it had anything to do with a sunburn becuase i was honestly freaking out. so i googled it and came across your post. i read through it all and im sure i have the same issue. So thank you for settling my nerves. i wish you the best!

  19. Thank heavens for your blog. I woke up Monday morning with the klingon lump between my eyebrows. I will try the benedryl and drink lots of water. Sounds like it goes away within 5 days no matter what you do. Sure hope so.

      • Still have the lump. Had an MRI on August 28, 2013. Dr. said no bad news but will be giving me medication later today. It’s getting real red and has also started swelling between my eyes. It’s getting hard to keep my glasses in place.
        So, we still don’t know too much about this problem?

  20. My daughter get this to every time she gets a bad sun burn on her face. So yep that’s the problem and the only thing that helps is sunscreen and hats. Stay out of the sun.

  21. I’m currently experiencing this swelling! I got severely sun burnt along my hairline on wednesday and woke up thursday morning with a swollen forehead, it’s Saturday now and the swelling has moved to the bridge/eye area. It’s not sore, and i have no headaches, but it is mainly more uncomfortable than anything else. Thank you for your blog/posts, i was starting to panic when it became swollen between my eyes! I feel like quasimoto! Definately wearing hats from now on :)

  22. OMG! The same thing is happening to me but:
    1. I haven’t been out in the sun
    2. I have a medium to tan complexion
    3. I had swollen lymph nodes, and a looming ear infection.

    Taking antibiotics right now and something for the swollen lymphnodes but the swelling was already happening before I started taking the meds. Going back to the doctor tomorrow, but thanks for sharing your experience.

  23. Hi there!

    The exact same thing happened to me on Sunday. Now it has traveled to the bottom of my eyes and cheeks. From what I’ve read, it seems to be a reoccurring thing with the sun. I am having a destination wedding and honeymoon in St. Lucia in July. I will die if this happens and my wedding photos looks like my fiancé is marrying a Klegon!!! This blog is a couple years old, does anyone know any preventative care I can do to not have to go through this on such a special day? please please please help!!!!!!


  24. hello! this is crazy. my forehead right now looks EXACTLY like yours in those photos.

    i have not been in the sun.
    we dont even have sun right now in this part of canada. haha. only grey.
    i do not have any kind of bite- i cant see any sort of puncture of specific bump.

    i tried antihistamines- didnt help.
    i tried anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxin)- didnt help.
    used a steroid cream- helped a little bit, but not much.

    i went to the walk-in clinic today and they told me that it just looks like some kind of allergy (it is quite itchy and hot) and said there is nothing else they can do. we went through lists of what it could possibly be- food allergy, new lotions/facewash/laundry detergent/etc…. nothing has changed! there is nothing new that i could be reacting to.

    the doctor just said “well it looks like an allergy, keep taking antihistamines, ice it, and keep using the steroid cream…”

    i have been icing it all day and the swelling has gone down the tiniest bit. i just hate that they said to keep on doing two things that i already tried which have not been successful!

    ugh. i just want to know what it is and find a quick solution!

  25. Hi! Glad I found this post. I am just getting back home from the ER with my 17yr old daughter. She woke up yesterday with a swollen forehead & this morning it went down to her eyes & nose area. She did get a little sunburnt over the wkend but not bad so im figuring it has something to do with that. The ER Dr treated her for cellulitus which she doesn’t have any of them yucky symptoms or tenderness of it. She got a steroid & antibiotic shot & antibiotics to take for 14 days & she has a follow up appt with her PCP in a couple days. Hopefully they will say something different from that ER Dr.

  26. Thank you for posting this I’m on vacation in Mexico with a huge forehead right now. I was in the sun the last three days and got sunburned yesterday. I was dreading going to a Mexico hospital but since reading this I think I’ll wait and try the usual stuff.

  27. I’m so glad that you wrote about this. I’m on what I hope is my final day of swelling. The swelling is past most of the bridge of my nose and more in my cheeks. If it wasn’t for finding your story I probably would have been completely freaked out by what was happening to me. I did go to the doctor just in case it was something worse but they could find anything really wrong and prescribed a steroid. I’m surprised that there is very little information about this issue and so far no one that I have talked to has ever heard of this happening. Anyway, thanks to you I feel relieved that I not the only person that has experienced this.

  28. I stumbled upon your blog… I’m experiencing the same kinds lump on my forehead. I’m in limbo with insurance.

  29. Relieved to hear so many similar stories. I was backpacking a few weeks ago, between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, and this happened to me. I’ve a lifetime behind me of having to be sun paranoid, and took all precautions. Big hat, big very dark glasses, covered up from neck to toe, SPF long-sleeved shirt over all, only my hands and face exposed, and doused in SPF 50 sunscreen. Because last year I’d developed an allergy to standard sunscreens, this time I used a naturally-sourced one, based on zinc and titanium. But I’d wake up in the mornings to find my whole face was hugely swollen. I looked like the elephant man, and the water-balloon like blobs around my eyes almost made it hard to see. My hands looked like when you blow up latex gloves like a balloon. I thought it must be sun allergy, which I’d had many years ago, but wondered why there was no associated rash. Now I wonder if it’s yet another sunscreen reaction. Or is it just what’s going to happen to me in the sun from now on, sunscreen or not?
    And my group at work is going on a sailing outing in a few days…
    Do keep this blog post circulating. I’ve not found anything about this reaction in the official literature, and doctors will deny its existence until they read it in their textbooks.

  30. My skin is sensitive and I was suffering from a lot of different allergies in my teenage and early twenties, sun allergies included. For the past several years I have got better…in not showing my face to the sun, wearing hats and sunglasses. Now I am on holidays and I came to this blog bcs I was googling exactly the same as majority of ppl here: swollen forehead at first, after a few days- bridge of the nose etc. So yeah, I was not careful and 3 days ago got very burned -especially forehead and tip of the nose. Glasses are very well outlined and it looks awful, like a panda bear. I was just applying aloe lotion to all my face since then, but yesterday forehead got swollen and today it is the bridge of the nose. Moreover, the tip of my nose got yellow-white pimples/spots and nose is super itchy from inside and outside.
    As I already experienced similar symptoms before, I have been taking CLARITYNE (loratadine) already since yesterday. I continue today, continue with aloe gel and continue drinking water. I also sleep a lot as I generally feel tired. As for the tip of my nose, I bought today ACYCLOVIR – this is what doctor prescribed me before, which is a topical steroid. I just know it needs at least 5 days to disappear. Best advice to myself-wear hat plus glasses at all times, even in the swimming pool. I get really tanned and dark while having rather pale completion, just need to be careful with the face. Really bumped about all this and hope all of us get better soon!

  31. I laughed when I heard your story not being mean or anything even though you were pretty funny…. I can relate same experience from beginning to end after first day of vacationing in Puerto Vallarta Mexico I woke up to a swollen forehead then days later it w ent down into my eyes … It was a nightmare no one knew what it was I think I just took bendryl and was miserable the rest of the trip .. thanks for finally answering my questions I’ve wondered about since that was years ago. Some said it was sun poisoning but I’ve always been out in the sun so none of it made sense.. it was all a mystery.. I freaked out .. but was glad it went away.. thanks once again you made my day…

  32. I get a bloody nose with clots that last two days and then the lumps go away. My one eye also is swollen, but I thought that was because of the many radiation treatments I had 4 years ago. I know I have allergies, but my forehead has never swollen until now. I’m glad I came across your post. I thought I was the only one going through this. The lump is very painful. I will be making a Doctor appointment. You’re very brave to show your picture and I for one really appreciate it.

  33. I looked like a Klingon the other day due to getting sunburnt on Saturday. I had my hair pulled back so my hairline got seriously burnt. By that evening I had a small amount of swelling in the middle of my forehead, sunday my whole forehead swelled. Over the last two days the swelling or should I say fluid has made its way to the bridge of my nose and eyelids making my eyes look very wide apart. It seems to be one eye cops it worse. It’s Wednesday today so I’m hopeful by Friday I should look relatively normal again! So pleased to have come across this :)

  34. Hi, I came across your blog in search of answers to this same thing that happens to my fiance when he gets a bad sunburn on his face. This time I gave him Benedryl right when we notice his swollen forhead and within a couple hours it started to go away. He woke the next day with swollen eyes and the bridge of his nose and again I gave him a benedryl and again it went away with an hour or two. Very strange but I do think it’s a sort of allergic reaction to the sunburn. Just my opinion though. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  35. Very fine photo-documentary ;-)
    Similar swelling reaction to moderately severe sunburn on forehead and top of head (fading hairline)……..though have had similar sunburns before (during past 60 years) without recollection of any such swelling. After 2 days (and out in more sun, though slathered with sun lotion), fluid clearly migrating down to bridge of nose and now below eyes (starting to close which is most irritating). Sleeping position has influence on fluid migration. Will try drinking more water and reducing salt intake (French Fries!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>