We often associate paralysis with spinal trauma, and particularly paralysis of one side of the face with a stroke. While these conditions can indeed lead to paralysis, Bell’s Palsey is another condition that can produce this same result. But what is Bell’s Palsey?
What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s Palsey is the temporary paralysis of one side of the face caused by damage to the facial nerve that controls the movement of facial muscles. This affects one’s ability to blink, smile or frown, and perform other movements of the face.
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy include the following:
- The weakness of facial muscles on one side of the face. This weakness can be severe enough to cause total paralysis or quite mild.
- Drooping of one side of the face.
- The difficulty of inability to blink, smile, or produce other facial expressions.
- Drooling due to inability to control mouth muscles.
- Changes in saliva production.
- A less acute sense of taste.
- Pain surrounding the jaw or ear on the affected side of the face.
- Hypersensitivity to sound.
- Slurred speech.
Bell’s Palsy looks a bit different for everyone. Symptoms could include a combination of the above-mentioned symptoms or could include the entire list. Generally, symptoms begin to improve after a few weeks and have completely cleared up in about 3 months. In rare cases, symptoms may last longer and may be permanent in extremely rare cases.
Bell’s Palsy Causes
Bell’s Palsy is thought to be caused by damage to the facial nerve that runs behind the ear and controls movement of all facial muscles. The damage most often occurs due to swelling. What exactly causes this swelling, however, is not always clear. The nerve passes through a boney corridor on its way to the face. When the nerve swells, it pushes against this corridor, causing damage to itself. The swelling is generally thought to be linked to viral infection, which can include:
- Herpes simplex (cold sores)
- Herpes zoster (chicken pox or shingles)
- Epstein-Barr (mononucleosis)
- Influenza B (flu)
- Viral meningitis
Bell’s Palsy Treatment
There is no simple test to determine whether or not someone has Bell’s Palsey. Diagnosis is made by ruling out all other options. Similarly, there is no medication that can easily cure Bell’s Palsey. Your doctor may prescribe steroids, such as prednisone, to bring down the swelling of the facial nerve. This can help to shorten the duration and severity of Bell’s Palsey. Treatment may also include physical therapy and facial massages. It is important to protect the eye if it is unable to blink and lubricate itself normally, so patients may be encouraged to wear an eye patch and apply lubricating eye drops as needed.
When to See Your Doctor
Paralysis to any degree is a good reason to see your doctor right away. With early intervention, the swelling of the nerve may be stopped and the severity of the Bell’s Palsy may be lessened. It is also important to see your doctor right away to ensure that you are not experiencing a stroke or any other condition.