Affecting an estimated 40,000 people a year in the United States, Bell’s Palsy is an episode (usually temporary) of facial weakness and or paralysis affecting one side of the face. In addition, ringing ears, alterations to the sense of taste, and other symptoms such as excessive tears from the eye on the affected side of the face may be present along with pain. The symptoms generally develop over 48 to 72 hours. In most cases, the symptoms improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery taking several months. In rare cases some symptoms persist for life or some individuals have a recurring episode. The precise cause of Bell’s Palsy is unknown at this time, but certain risk factors have been identified, such as:
Being between the ages of 15 and 45
Pregnancy (and especially in cases of preeclampsia)
Suspected triggers of Bell’s Palsy include:
Existing dormant viral infections
Impaired immunity due to sleep deprivation, stress, or physical trauma
Infection of facial nerves
Upper respiratory infections
*Photo credit: Body Works Health Clinic
What Bell’s Palsy is not:
Bell’s Palsy is not a stroke, though facial weakness and paralysis can be present as a symptom of stroke. Strokes are a life threatening condition and associated symptoms include weakness on one side of the body, trouble speaking & walking, and difficulty moving the eyes. These symptoms do not present with Bell’s Palsy. However, in any case of facial weakness or paralysis you should immediately seek medical attention. Medical professionals will perform different diagnostics to rule out stroke or other possible causes of facial weakness.
How is Bell’s Palsy Treated?
If diagnosed quickly, steroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and reduce the possibility of long-term facial weakness and paralysis. Antiviral medication may be administered although its efficacy in helping to resolve Bell’s Palsy is contested.
Physical therapy can help to prevent shortening and permanent contraction of facial muscles while they’re paralyzed. Your physical therapy will show you how to stretch your facial muscles and perform face, mouth and tongue exercises to help restore function. These exercises are easy and safe to do at home and are beneficial for your long term prognosis.
Bell’s Palsy is relatively rare but vigilance and awareness of the telltale signs can greatly improve your outcome if you’re affected. In the event you’re diagnosed, you can proactively take steps to ensure your recovery is as complete as possible.