Bell palsy is named after the Scottish anatomist Charles Bell – the first to describe the condition. It is also known as acute peripheral facial palsy.. It has no known cause but causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles of the face. This usually occur when the nerve that controls the facial muscles becomes inflamed, swollen, or compressed.
The condition causes one side of your face to droop or become stiff. The individual who has Bell’s palsy may have difficulty smiling or closing the eye on the affected side.
Although Bell’s palsy can occur at any age, the condition is more common among people between ages 16 and 60. In most cases, Bell palsy is temporary, and the symptoms usually go away within a few weeks or months.
Symptoms of Bell Palsy
The common signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy include:
- A loss of taste
- Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side
- Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling
- Rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face — occurring within hours to days
- Pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side
- Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce
In rare cases, Bell’s palsy can affect the nerves on both sides of your face.
Although the exact reason Bell’s palsy occurs isn’t clear, it’s often related to having a viral infection. Viruses that have been linked to Bell’s palsy include viruses that cause:
- Cold sores and genital herpes (herpes simplex)
- Chickenpox and shingles (herpes zoster)
- Infectious mononucleosis (Epstein-Barr)
- Cytomegalovirus infections
- Respiratory illnesses (adenovirus)
- German measles (rubella)
- Mumps (mumps virus)
- Flu (influenza B)
- Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
The nerve that controls your facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to your face. In Bell’s palsy, that nerve becomes inflamed and swollen — usually related to a viral infection. Besides facial muscles, the nerve affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of your ear.
Bell’s palsy occurs more often in people :
- that are pregnant, especially during the third trimester or who are in the first week after giving birth
- who have an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold
- with diabetes
- with family history of the condition
Recurrent attacks of Bell’s palsy are rare. But in some of these cases, there’s a family history of recurrent attacks — suggesting a possible genetic predisposition to Bell’s palsy.
A mild case of Bell’s palsy normally disappears within a month. Recovery from a more severe case involving total paralysis varies. Complications may include:
- Irreversible damage to your facial nerve.
- Abnormal regrowth of nerve fibers. This may result in involuntary contraction of certain muscles when you’re trying to move others (synkinesis) — for example, when you smile, the eye on the affected side may close.
- Partial or complete blindness of the eye that won’t close due to excessive dryness and scratching of the clear protective covering of the eye (cornea).
Beyond taking your medication, what else can you do to cope with Bell’s palsy while you wait for it to hopefully resolve?
- Use artificial tears or eye drops during the day. If your eyelid doesn’t completely close, or you can’t blink, you can develop a pretty significant case of dry eye, also known as exposure keratitis. Without treatment, you might develop some damage to your cornea. Your eye doctor can give you more specific advice on how many times per day to use the drops. If you need to use lubricating eye drops more than four times a day, be sure to use preservative-free eye drops, which won’t irritate your eye.
- Use a heavy lubricating ointment in your eye at night. This kind of thicker ointment will prevent moisture loss in your eye while you’re sleeping, but it can make your vision blurry. Apply right before you go to sleep.
- Tape your affected eye shut at night. To prevent your eye from drying out during the night, use surgical tape to close your eyelid when you go to bed. Be gentle with removing the tape when you wake up so as not to damage your eyelid or the skin around your eye.
- Consider using an eye patch. Some experts suggest placing a patch or moisture chamber over your eye to reduce moisture loss and prevent dry eye.
- Use a straw. Sometimes it’s hard to drink from a glass when your mouth is droopy. To reduce the likelihood of dribbling water or other beverages down your chin, try using a straw.
- Talk with someone. If you’re feeling down about your appearance, don’t hesitate to talk about your feelings with a trusted friend or even a counselor or therapist.
- Consider alternative therapies. Complementary therapies won’t cure your Bell’s palsy symptoms, but they might help you feel better. For example, if you have a favorite relaxation technique or other stress-reduction strategies, consider putting it to use.
- Try to rest as much as possible. Dealing with facial paralysis and the changes it brings can be stressful. Try to rest as much as you can, get plenty of sleep, and focus on eating nutritious, wholesome foods.
Treatment of Bell’s palsy
At Effective Physiotherapy & Fitness Clinic, we use a procedure called Body Servicing Therapy (BST) to treat Bell Palsy. BST is a very effective procedure that gives quick strength and healing to the affected leg(s). Unlike any other treatment, it is the most recommended.
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.
Your doctor may recommend medications such as:
- corticosteroid drugs, which reduce inflammation
- antiviral or antibacterial medication, which may be prescribed if a virus or bacteria causes your Bell’s palsy
- over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which can help relieve mild pain
- eye drops to keep your affected eye well lubricated
- an eye patch (for your dry eye)
- a warm, moist towel over your face to relieve pain
- facial massage
- physical therapy exercises to stimulate your facial muscles