American Hospital Blog

Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy

Bell's palsy is a condition causing sudden weakness in the facial muscles, primarily temporary, which improves over weeks. Complete recovery usually happens in about six months, and in some cases, the symptoms last for life but rarely reoccurs.

The defect makes half of the face appear to droop, the smile is one-sided, and the eye on that side resists closing.

The condition is also known as acute peripheral facial palsy of unknown cause. It may happen at any age, causing swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on a single side of the face or a reaction after a viral infection.

Understand the symptoms

Signs of Bell's palsy are sudden but rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face that happens within hours to days, drooling and facial droop making facial expressions difficult, such as closing your eye or smiling. Other signs are pain around the jaw or in or behind the ear on the affected side, headache, a loss of taste, increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side and changes in the tears and saliva you produce. In rare cases, Bell's palsy affects the nerves on both sides of the face.

Consult the doctor

Talk to your doctor when there is any sign of paralysis, as it can lead to having a stroke. A stroke does not cause Bell's palsy but may show similar symptoms. Get medical attention when you experience facial weakness or drooping to diagnose the underlying cause and severity of the illness.

Know the causes

Bell's palsy exact cause remains unknown but often relates to having a viral infection. These viruses linked to Bell's palsy may cause cold sores and genital herpes, chickenpox and shingles, infectious mononucleosis. The other conditions are mumps, flu, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, respiratory illnesses, cytomegalovirus infections and German measles.

The condition affects the nerve that controls the facial muscles, causing it to become inflamed and swollen, mostly linked to a viral infection. The nerve also affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of the ear.

Recognize the risks

Bell's palsy is more prone to people who have diabetes or an upper respiratory infection, like the flu or a cold. Even woman, who is pregnant, especially during the third trimester, or who are in the first week after giving birth. The reoccurrence of Bell's palsy is rare, but sometimes a family history of recurrent attacks may increase the risk.

Associated complexities

Generally, mild cases of Bell's palsy usually recover within a month. Severe cases causing total paralysis may have complications like irreversible damage to the facial nerve. Abnormal regrowth of nerve fibers causing involuntary contraction of specific muscles when trying to move others (synkinesis) like, during smiling, Partial or complete blindness of the eye that does not close due to excessive dryness and scratching of the transparent protective covering of the eye (cornea).

Measures for prevention

Doing physical exercises of your face, massaging and exercising as per the physical therapist's advice helps relax the facial muscles. Even over-the-counter pain relievers can ease the pain.

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