What is Bell's Palsy?

Bell's palsy is paralysis or weakness of the facial muscles on one side only. It is the most common cause of paralysis affecting the face. It comes on suddenly and has no obvious cause, though scientists think that a viral infection makes the facial nerve become inflamed. One is more likely to get Bell's palsy if pregnant, diabetic or sick with a cold or flu. Fortunetly, in most cases the facial paralysis or weaknesses are temporary.

Symptoms

Symptoms associated with paralysis or weakness of one side of the face, may include these-

  • A sagging eyebrow
  • Difficulty closing the eye
    • dryness or watering of the affected eye
    • a turned-out lower eyelid
  • Mild ear ache or pain behind the ear
  • A sagging mouth
    • dribbling of saliva and drinks
    • difficulty in speaking
  • Alteration or loss of taste (at the front of the tongue)
  • Unusually sharp hearing on the affected side

Three in four patients improve without treatment. With or without treatment, most people begin to get better within 2-3 weeks and the rest recover completely within 3 to 6 months. Sometimes, individuals may have residual weakness that never goes away, such as twitching lips, tearing eyes or spasms of the face or eyelids.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will usually be able to identify Bell's palsy by examining your face and listening to a description of your symptoms.

Your doctor may order some tests (blood work or MRI) to rule out other causes of facial paralysis, such as stroke, brain tumor, facial nerve tumor, sarcoidosis (an autoimmune disease), Lyme Disease (an infection caused by ticks) and HIV/AIDS (which affect the immune system). Treatment differs for each one of these conditions, so it is important to be evaluated by a healthcare provider at the onset of facial muscle weakness.

Treatment

For most people, Bell's palsy gets better by itself without any treatment at all. If your doctor thinks that your Bell's palsy is caused by a virus, an antiviral drug (such as acyclovir) may be prescribed, though there is no clear evidence that antiviral drugs are an effective treatment for Bell's palsy. If your doctor thinks that your Bell's palsy is due to nerve inflammation, then steriods (such as prednisone) may be prescribed.

Physical Therapy (PT), acupuncture, facial exercises and massage may  be used, but there is little scientific evidence to prove that these treatments work.

Good nutrition and adequate sleep are always sound advice for helping one through the healing process. If one has difficulty with drooling while chewing, sometimes foods with more texture make it easier to eat - try thick oatmeal for a meal! Straws to help with drinking can also be helpful.

Bell's palsy may make it hard to fully close your eyelid, putting one at risk for increased eye dryness and possible infection. The following safeguards can help to keep the affected eye moist-

  • Frequently close the eye by pulling the upper lid down with clean fingers.
  • Wear protective glasses or an eye patch to keep dust and other foreign matter out of the eye.
  • Use artificial tears (eye drops) to keep the eye moist - ask a pharmacist for advice.
  • Apply a special eye ointment and tape the eye shut with special paper-tape - ask your doctor or pharmacist for guidance on what to use.

If your eye starts to hurt or is damaged, an eye doctor shoud be seen as soon as possible.

Further Information

 
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