Bell’s Palsy is also known as facial palsy and can happen at any age. Medically, any cause is still unknown, but it is believed to be the after effect of the swelling and inflammation of the nerves that control the muscles on one side of the face. That is why it is symptomized as a temporary weakness of the facial muscles which makes half of the face droop. The affected side resists the closing of that side of the eye and the smile also appears to be one-sided.
In most of the cases, Bell’s Palsy is temporary, and the symptoms improve within a few weeks after taking the treatment. It does not recur mostly, and complete recovery takes place within six months. However, to rule out any serious complications related to the brain, doctors usually advise an MRI scan test of the brain. Also, this disease does not affect both sides of the face. There are lot many things to know about Bell’s Palsy.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
The onset of Bell’s Palsy is sudden and is characterized with below symptoms:
- Mild deficiency to complete paralysis of one side of the face.
- The symptoms can take hours to days to be visible
- Difficulty in making a facial expression like smiling or closing the eyes
- Pain around the jaw or behind the ear of the affected side
- Increased sensitivity to sound on the ear of the affected side
- Decreased sensation to taste
- Difficulty eating and drinking
- Irritation of the eye on the affected side
- Increased or decreased production of tears and saliva
Causes for Bell’s Palsy
Nerves controlling the facial muscles pass through a narrow corridor of bone on the sides of the face. It is the seventh cranial nerve. In Bell’s palsy, these nerves get swollen, usually due to viral infection. The virus that is associated with this disease is also common for below conditions.
- Cold sores and genital herpes
- Chickenpox and shingles
- Respiratory illness
- Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
These nerves, apart from controlling facial muscles, also control tear, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle ear.
Risk factors for Bell’s Palsy
Most commonly, this condition is common among:
- Pregnant women in their third trimester or first week after the delivery
- People with cold, flu or upper respiratory illness
- People with any kind of ear infection or eye infection
- A family history of Bell’s Palsy
Diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy
The diagnosis of the disease is made after a thorough physical examination by the doctor. Information regarding the exact time of the onset of the symptoms is quite essential. Some tests can be done to diagnose the condition. To find the bacterial or viral infection, a few blood tests are also advised. A few scans can also be ordered. An MRI scan detects for the facial nerves involved in the condition and the extent to which they are affected.
Treatment of Bell’s Palsy
The symptoms of Bell’s Palsy might improve on their own and can take a few days to a few months to recover fully. The facial muscles need enough time to regain its strength. However, with medical intervention, this recovery can be made effective and quicker. The following treatment can help.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroid are recommended
- Antiviral or anti-bacterial medicines or antibiotics are prescribed when the blood tests reveal any infection
- Over-the-counter pain medication is prescribed to relieve the pain if any
- Vitamin B12 supplements to strengthen the nerve health
- Eye patches for the dry eyes
- Warm soaks to the facial muscles to relieve the pain
- Massage on face
- Physiotherapy to stimulate the nerves affecting the facial muscles
A regular session of physiotherapy under the guidance of an expert therapist can help in gaining fast recovery from the symptoms. Also, the results are lasting through this treatment procedure and should not be ignored, if advised by the doctor.
Complications associated with Bell’s Palsy
Most people recover without any complication. However, in severe cases, there could be long-term damage to the cranial nerves which control the facial muscles. The excessive damage caused due to dryness of the eyes can lead to eye infections, ulcers, and blindness. A condition called “synkinesis” can also develop. In this condition, the movement of one muscle causes other muscles to move involuntarily. For instance, a voluntary smile may lead to an involuntary eye blinking or closing.
Though there are no serious complications, one is advised to seek medical care and go for diagnostic tests, as suggested by the doctor. Timely care can help in fast recovery and may reduce future complications.
Word of caution: Never self-diagnose yourself for Bell’s Palsy. Find your nearest doctor online immediately if you notice any of the associated symptoms. Many of the symptoms are same to that of stroke or brain tumor. Hence, a detailed diagnosis based on CT scan or medical MRI scan is needed to start the correct treatment.