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Bell's Palsy: What You Should Know

What Is Bell's Palsy?|Signs & Symptoms|Causes & Complications|Diagnosis & Treatment|Key Takeaways
Bell's Palsy: What You Should Know

Losing control and movement on any part of the body is scary. But what happens when it affects your face? This is a temporary condition that’s known as Bell’s Palsy. Read on to learn more about how doctors diagnose and treat this condition, as well as other Bell’s Palsy recovery signs you should watch out for.

Headaches: Types, Causes, Remedies

What Is Bell's Palsy?

Bell’s Palsy causes a momentary loss of control, strength, or paralysis in the muscles of the face. It can happen if the nerve that controls these muscles becomes compressed, swollen, or inflamed.

This condition makes one portion of the face to become stiff or droop. In rare cases, it could affect both sides of the face.

Bell’s Palsy is normally not permanent, but there are rare cases where it does not go away. Most people recover 2 weeks to 6 months after the first symptoms appear. Additionally, most cases of Bell’s Palsy will recover full facial expression and strength.

Signs & Symptoms

You may experience symptoms of this condition 1-2 weeks after having a viral infection. The symptoms may appear suddenly.

These symptoms may include:

  • Changes in saliva and tear production
  • Loss of taste
  • Headaches
  • More sensitivity to sound on the side of the face that is affected
  • Pain behind the ear or around the jaw on the affected side
  • Drooling
  • Facial droop
  • Having a hard time making facial expressions like smiling or blinking
  • Rapid occurrence of mild weakness on the side of your face and potentially total paralysis (may happen within hours or days)

As this condition is usually temporary, Bell’s palsy recovery signs include regaining pre-condition facial control.

Causes & Complications

There is no known cause for Bell’s Palsy. However, it is often related to viral infections. What usually happens is that a viral infection causes facial nerves to become swollen and inflamed, which can lead to Bell’s Palsy.

Some viruses that were linked to Bell’s Palsy may include viruses that can cause:

  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
  • Flu or influenza B
  • The mumps virus
  • German measles
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Cytomegalovirus infections
  • Infectious mononucleosis (mono)
  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Genital herpes and cold sores

Who Is More Likely to Get Bell’s Palsy?

There are certain groups of people who may have a higher chance of developing Bell’s Palsy. Some examples may include:

  • People with diabetes
  • People with upper respiratory infections like a cold or the flu
  • Women who are pregnant, particularly at the third trimester of pregnancy or the first week after birthing their child

What Are the Complications of Bell’s Palsy?

Most cases of Bell’s Palsy can recover without experiencing complications. However, complications may happen if a person gets severe cases of Bell’s Palsy. Some complications may include:

  • Synkinesis
  • Excessive dryness in eyes, which can cause ulcers, eye infections, and potentially blindness
  • Damage of the seventh cranial nerve that may irreversible, which is the nerve that controls the facial muscles

Diagnosis & Treatment

There is no specific test available to diagnose Bell’s Palsy. A doctor may look at your face then ask you to perform facial movements like blinking.

Other conditions like tumors, Lyme disease, and strokes can cause facial muscle weakness that can be similar to the indicators of Bell’s Palsy.

Your doctor may suggest the following tests if the symptoms are not clear:

  • Imaging scans to look for pressure on your facial nerve
  • Electromyography, or EMG, to look for nerve damage and how severe the damage is.
  • Blood tests to look for conditions like Lyme disease

How Do You Treat Bell’s Palsy?

In situations wherein doctors know the cause of Bell’s Palsy, then treatment will be done to address that problem. But in general, there is no specific Bell’s Palsy treatment. The forms of treatment that doctors use usually depend on what symptoms the patient has.

However, most patients can fully recover regardless of whether treatment is provided or not. Recovery time often depends on how severe the nerve damage was, but Bell’s palsy recovery signs may be apparent 2 weeks after the initial symptoms.

Medication

While every case is different, doctors usually prescribe the following medications:

  • Antiviral drugs
  • Corticosteroids

Additionally, doctors might recommend physical therapy to prevent permanent contractures in your facial muscles. A physical therapist may teach you how to exercise and massage your facial muscles.

Surgery

Decompression surgery was done in the past to relieve pressure on a facial nerve. However, this surgery is not as recommended. People may get permanent hearing loss or facial nerve injury from decompression surgery complications.

Plastic surgery is often only rarely suggested if needed to correct any lasting facial nerve problems. Plastic surgery may be performed to restore facial movement or make the face look more even. Some surgeries that may be done may include:

  • Nerve grafts
  • Facial implants
  • Eyelid lift
  • Eyebrow lift

In some procedures like the eyebrow lift, they may need to be done again after a few years.

Alternative Medicine

Some home remedies and alternative medicine that could help you with your symptoms may include:

  • Acupuncture (by professionals) to stimulate muscles and nerves to potentially get some relief
  • Regularly doing physical therapy exercises
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and Advil to potentially ease any pain
  • Protection for the eye that cannot close by using lubricating eye drops in the day along with eye ointment at night. You may use an eye patch, goggles, or glasses for more protection.

How Do You Prevent Bell’s Palsy?

There is no known way to prevent Bell’s Palsy because there is no known cause for Bell’s Palsy (unless the cause was an underlying condition).

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you notice that you have any signs of Bell’s Palsy, it would be best to seek medical attention immediately. Most treatment ought to be done 2-3 days of onset of the symptoms.

Additionally, going to the doctor early may help you learn if you have an underlying condition that caused your Bell’s Palsy. So, seeing one if you have any sign of Bell’s Palsy would be ideal.

Key Takeaways

Most cases of Bell’s Palsy make a full recovery by themselves. However, learning more about it and getting prompt treatment can help you potentially avoid complications and make a full recovery. With proper treatment and therapy you will see Bell’s Palsy recovery signs within weeks or even days.

Learn more about the conditions of the Brain & Nervous System here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Bell’s Palsy, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/bells-palsy, Accessed July 2, 2020

Bell’s Palsy, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/symptoms-causes/syc-20370028, Accessed July 2, 2020

Management of Synkinesis, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18470836/, Accessed July 2, 2020

Bell’s Palsy: Diagnosis & Treatment, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370034, Accessed July 2, 2020

Facial Nerve Decompression Complications, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6834955/, Accessed July 2, 2020

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Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos Updated May 19
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
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