Bell’s Palsy

Although this condition is rare, Bell’s Palsy is the most common type of facial nerve disorder. This condition occurs when the facial nerve on one side of the face is damaged due to pressure or swelling. The result is paralysis that makes the face appear to be sagging or have a frozen expression. The onset of this paralysis can be very sudden, with some patients surprised to see that one side of their face has changed. For others, the onset can take several days to gradually develop.

It’s important to see a physician as soon as possible when you notice the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy or have any kind of facial paralysis. Conditions such as stroke, certain tumors, Lyme disease, infection, injury/trauma, or other disorders could be causing the paralysis. Bell’s Palsy is by definition a diagnosis of exclusion, which means all other potential causes must be ruled out before the diagnosis can be confirmed. This can readily be done by an otolaryngologist. Unfortunately, some patients and even physicians may assume that a particular case of facial paralysis is due to Bell’s Palsy, only to later find out that cancer was the cause and that treatment was unnecessarily delayed, or that a more serious condition such as herpes zoster oticus is to blame and permanent damage was unnecessarily incurred.

There is no known cause for Bell’s palsy or specific steps you can take to avoid it. The condition occurs in both males and females, most often between the ages of 15 and 45. Those who are pregnant, have severe preeclampsia, are obese, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or upper respiratory ailments are at the greatest risk for Bell’s palsy.

Symptoms Of Bell’s Palsy

  • Paralysis (total immobility due to nerve dysfunction) or paresis (weakness) and distortions of the face on one side only (sagging, frozen expressions, frowns, droopiness)
  • Facial “numbness”
  • Drooling
  • Pain around the ear on the same side as the weakness
  • Loss of the sense of taste
  • An eyelid that does not fully close
  • Feeling of heaviness in the affected half of the face

Treatment Of And Recovery From Bell’s Palsy

It is important to be evaluated and diagnosed by a physician if you experience Bell’s Palsy symptoms. While some patients will recover from Bell’s Palsy without treatment, others benefit from a prescribed oral steroid or a combination of oral steroids. Experimental treatments, including electronic nerve stimulation and hyperbaric therapy, have also been used with mixed success.

Most patients partially or fully recover from Bell’s Palsy, but recovery time and the severity of the symptoms can vary. Some patients get better in a few weeks or months. Others may have long-term paralysis. Others may recover full movement of the face but develop synkinesis of the facial muscles, a condition where the muscles on one side of the face move at the same time due to the healing process crossing up the nerve paths. Because this condition affects a person’s appearance, people with Bell’s Palsy often start avoiding social situations and begin to isolate themselves. Counseling and support groups can often be very helpful for these patients.