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What is Bell’s palsy?

Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes a temporary weakness or paralysisof the muscles in
the face. It can occur when the nerve that controls your facial muscles becomes inflamed,
swollen, or compressed.

The condition causes one side of your face to droop or become stiff. You may have
difficulty smiling or closing your eye on the affected side. In most cases, Bell’s palsy is
temporary and symptoms usually go away after a few weeks.

Although Bell’s palsy can occur at any age, the condition is more common among people
between ages 16 and 60. Bell’s palsy is named after the Scottish anatomist Charles Bell,
who was the first to describe the condition.

What are the symptoms of Bell’s palsy?


The symptoms of Bell’s palsy can develop one to two weeks after you have a cold, ear
infection, or eye infection. They usually appear abruptly, and you may notice them when
you wake up in the morning or when you try to eat or drink.

Bell’s palsy is marked by a droopy appearance on one side of the face and the inability to
open or close your eye on the affected side. In rare cases, Bell’s palsy may affect both
sides of your face.

Other signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy include:

 drooling
 difficulty eating and drinking
 an inability to make facial expressions, such as smiling or frowning
 facial weakness
 muscle twitches in the face
 dry eye and mouth
 headache
 sensitivity to sound
 irritation of the eye on the involved side

Call your doctor immediately if you develop any of these symptoms. You should never
self-diagnose Bell’s palsy. The symptoms can be similar to those of other serious
conditions, such as a stroke or brain tumor.

What causes Bell’s palsy?


Bell’s palsy occurs when the seventh cranial nerve becomes swollen or compressed,
resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. The exact cause of this damage is unknown, but
many medical researchers believe it’s most likely triggered by a viral infection.

The viruses/bacteria that have been linked to the development of Bell’s palsy include:

 herpes simplex, which causes cold sores and genital herpes


 HIV, which damages the immune system
 sarcoidosis, which causes organ inflammation
 herpes zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles
 Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis
 Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection caused by infected ticks

What are the risk factors for Bell’s palsy?


Your risk of developing Bell’s palsy increases if you:

 are pregnant
 have diabetes
 have a lung infection
 have a family history of the condition

How is Bell’s palsy diagnosed?


Your doctor will first perform a physical examination to determine the extent of the
weakness in your facial muscles. They’ll also ask you questions about your symptoms,
including when they occurred or when you first noticed them.

Your doctor can also use a variety of tests to make a Bell’s palsy diagnosis. These tests
may include blood tests to check for the presence of a bacterial or viral infection. Your
doctor might also use an MRI or CTscan to check the nerves in your face.

How is Bell’s palsy treated?


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.

The following treatments may help in your recovery.

Medication

 corticosteroid drugs, which reduce inflammation


 antiviral or antibacterial medication, which may be prescribed if a virus or bacteria
caused your Bell’s palsy
 over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, which can
help relieve mild pain
 eye drops

Home treatment

 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

What are the potential complications of Bell’s palsy?


Most people who have an episode of Bell’s palsy will completely recover without
complications. However, complications may occur in more severe cases of Bell’s palsy.
These include the following:

 You may have damage to the seventh cranial nerve. This nerve controls your facial
muscles.
 You may have excessive dryness in the eye, which can lead to eye infections, ulcers,
or even blindness.
 You may have synkinesis, which is a condition in which moving one body part causes
another to move involuntarily. For example, your eye may close when you smile.

What is the long-term outlook for people with Bell’s palsy?


The outlook for people with Bell’s palsy is usually good. Recovery time may vary
depending on the severity of nerve damage. In general, however, people can see an
improvement within two weeks after the initial onset of symptoms. Most will completely
recover within three to six months, but it may be longer for people with more severe
cases of Bell’s palsy. In rare cases, symptoms may continue to return or may be
permanent.

Call your doctor immediately if you’re showing any signs of Bell’s palsy. Prompt
treatment can help speed up your recovery time and prevent any complications.

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