Facial palsy

Bell’s palsy- does the name ring any bells? No, it’s not related to any bell; it’s a kind facial paralysis. Our face has many small muscles, each one responsible for different functions like closing of eyelids, smiling or frowning. The muscles are controlled by the facial nerve. Any impairment of the facial nerve results in the weakness or loss of function of that particular muscle.

Bell’s palsy is caused by damage to the facial nerve which causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the face. It is the most common cause of facial paralysis. Usually it affects only one side of the face, but in rare conditions both the sides may be affected. Affected people might notice stiffness and weakness on the affected side of the face.

Facial nerves are the one that transfers lots of messages from the brain to the face. Messages like – closing of eye-lids, smiling or frowning, salivary glands to spit, to make tears and to taste food, but when the facial nerve is damaged the brain fails to convey these messages resulting in paralysis. Fortunately, Bell’s palsy is a temporary condition.

People at risk

The exact reason or cause of Bell’s palsy is not yet known but few risk factors are related to Bell’s palsy, which might cause Bell’s palsy. Few risk factors are

  • Herpes simplex (Herpes Virus)
  • Common cold (influenza virus)
  • Lyme disease (bacterial infection)
  • Mononucleosis (Epstein – Barr virus)
  • HIV
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy (3rd trimester)
  • Sarcoidosis (affects any organ in your body, cause is unknown)
  • Genetic predisposition

Remember having any one of these condition doesn’t mean that you will have Bell’s palsy, it affects only 1 in every 5000. You have a reduced risk of encountering Bell’s palsy if you have already had it before.

Diagnosing Bell’s palsy

Diagnosis of Bell’s palsy is done after a detailed examination to rule out facial paralysis due to other causes such as – trauma, Lyme disease, ear infection, tumor of ear or brain, genetic disorder, and stroke. There is no specific test for Bell’s palsy. The moment you notice or feel that you have any of the above mentioned symptoms, it is important to seek a doctor’s help, immediately.

The doctor will require your detailed medical history, and also will ask you over what period of time your symptoms developed, do these symptoms followed some other illness or trauma.

Inform your doctor if you are experiencing weakness or paralysis in any other part of your body, about symptoms you are experiencing, any recent facial or head injury because facial paralysis caused by injury is more serious than caused by Bell’s palsy.

Few tests for bacterial and viral infection are done. If some other cause for facial paralysis is suspected, then your doctor may go for X-ray or computer tomography testing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look inside the body, or an electromyography (EMG) to check how your muscles respond to nerve signal.

Good news! Bell’s palsy is temporary

The hardest part of dealing with Bell’s palsy is handling emotions that accompany the disease. Bell’s palsy changes your facial look for a period of time, which results in self-consciousness and embarrassment in public. It is very important that your family and friends understands your situation and knows why your face looks the way it is now. Get help from your physician follow the prescribed medicine and very importantly eat well and take complete rest for faster and effective recovery.

Reducing inflammation and swelling is the effective way for Bell’s palsy treatment. Steroids such as prednisone and methyl-prednisolone are used to treat inflammation.

Acyclovir drug is used against herpes virus, this helps in reducing the course of the disease.

Analgesic medicines such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen are prescribed to reduce pain.

Always keep your eye moist, especially at nights, and protect it from injury and dust. If you are unable to close your eyelids, then your physician might prescribe eyedrops, or eyepatch or glasses to protect your eye.

Physical therapy that helps in movement of facial muscles may benefit you a lot. Consult your doctor before taking any over the counter medicines.

Most of you with Bell’s palsy recover completely within 1 to 3 months; however, very few are left with some permanent facial weakness. Weakness of the facial muscles is known as facial palsy

Eat well and take complete rest for fast and effective recovery.

In very rare cases, surgery might be recommended to decompress the compressed facial nerve. In some, plastic surgery might be required to bring back the facial expression and to make the facial muscle work better.

Bell’s palsy starts showing itself suddenly, and the symptoms peaks up in just 48 hours. The severity of the symptoms ranges from mild weakness to total paralysis of the facial muscle, which results in twitching, weakness, or complete paralysis. Before the symptoms actually shows up, you might feel pain at the back or front of the ears. The symptoms include

  • Drooping of the eye-lids or corner of the mouth
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Difficulty closing the eye-lid
  • Excessive tearing of the eye
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Loss of facial expression
  • Difficulty eating & drinking
  • Trouble speaking
  • Change in the amount of saliva or drooling
  • Hearing louder than usual
  • Major facial distortion