Is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or
paralysis of the muscles in the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls
your facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed.
The condition causes one side of your face to droop or become
stiff. You may have difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected
side. In most cases, Bell’s palsy is temporary and symptoms usually go away
after a few weeks.
Although Bell’s palsy can occur at any age, the condition is more
common among people between ages 16 and 60. Bell’s palsy is named after the
Scottish anatomist Charles Bell, who was the first to describe the condition.
Are the Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy?
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy can develop one to two weeks after
you have a cold, ear infection, or eye infection. They usually appear abruptly,
and you may notice them when you wake up in the morning or when you try to eat
Bell’s palsy is marked by a droopy appearance on one side of the
face and the inability to open or close your eye on the affected side. In rare
cases, Bell’s palsy may affect both sides of your face.
Other signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy include:
- difficulty eating and drinking
- an inability to make facial expressions, such as
smiling or frowning
- facial weakness
- muscle twitches in the face
- dry eye and mouth
- a headache
- sensitivity to sound
Call your doctor immediately if you develop any of these
symptoms. You should never self-diagnose Bell’s palsy. The symptoms can be
similar to those of other serious conditions, such as a stroke or brain tumor.
Causes Bell’s Palsy?
Bell's palsy occurs when the seventh cranial nerve becomes
swollen or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. The exact
cause of this damage is unknown, but many medical researchers believe it’s most
likely triggered by a viral infection.
The viruses that have been linked to the development of Bell’s
- herpes simplex,
which causes cold sores and genital herpes
- HIV, which damages the
which causes organ inflammation
- herpes zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and
- Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis
Are the Risk Factors for Bell’s Palsy?
Your risk of developing Bell’s palsy increases if you:
- are pregnant
- have diabetes
- have a lung infection
- have a family history of the condition
Is Bell’s Palsy Diagnosed?
Your doctor will first perform a physical examination to determine
the extent of the weakness in your facial muscles. They’ll also ask you questions
about your symptoms, including when they occurred or when they were first
Your doctor can also use a variety of tests to make a Bell’s
palsy diagnosis. These tests may include blood tests to check for the presence
of a bacterial or viral infection. Your doctor might also use an MRI or CT scan
to check the nerves in your face.
Is Bell’s Palsy Treated?
In most cases, Bell’s palsy symptoms improve without treatment.
However, it can take several weeks or months for the muscles in your face to
regain their normal strength.
The following treatments may help in your recovery.
- corticosteroid drugs, which reduce inflammation
- antiviral medication, which may be prescribed if
a virus caused your Bell’s palsy
- over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen,
which can help relieve mild pain
- using eye drops and an eye patch (for your dry
- placing a warm, moist towel over your face to
- massaging your face
- doing physical therapy exercises to stimulate
your facial muscles
Are the Potential Complications of Bell’s Palsy?
Most people who experience an episode of Bell’s palsy will
completely recover without complications. However, complications may occur in
more severe cases of Bell’s palsy. These include the following:
- You may have damage to the seventh cranial nerve.
This nerve controls your facial muscles.
- You may have excessive dryness in the eye, which
can lead to eye infections, ulcers, or even blindness.
- You may have synkinesis, which is a condition in
which moving one body part causes another to move involuntarily. For example,
your eye may close when you smile.
Is the Long-Term Outlook for People with Bell’s Palsy?
The outlook for people with Bell’s palsy is usually good.
Recovery time may vary depending on the severity of nerve damage. In general,
however, people can see an improvement within two weeks after the initial onset
of symptoms. Most will completely recover within three to six months, but it
may be longer for people with more severe cases of Bell’s palsy. In rare cases,
symptoms may continue to return or may be permanent.
Call your doctor immediately if you’re showing any signs of
Bell’s palsy. Prompt treatment can help speed up your recovery time and prevent