Bell’s palsy is a medical condition in which there is temporary weakness or a lack of ability to move on one side of the face. This condition gets better on its own typically within 9 months.
When a person has Bell’s palsy, the muscles on one side of the face will weaken or become paralyzed. This condition will only affect one side of the face at any time, causing that side to become rigid.
Bell’s palsy can occur due to trauma to the seventh cranial nerve, also known as the facial nerve.
Bell’s palsy can happen to anyone. However, most people with bell’s palsy are people who have diabetes or are recovering from a viral infection.
The symptoms of bell’s palsy are similar to those of a stroke. However, the symptoms only occur for short periods of time and are different from the general symptoms of a stroke.
Causes of Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy can occur when the facial nerve experiences rigidity. Experts believe that this condition is caused by damage to the facial nerve which leads to swelling.
The facial nerve travels through the narrow, bony area in the skull. When the nerve swells, it pushes against the hard surface of the skull. This affects the nerve performance.
Researchers also suspect a viral infection as the cause of Bell’s palsy. The genital herpes virus is one of the most common viruses that cause symptoms of Bell’s palsy.
Viruses that can cause symptoms of Bell’s palsy are:
- German measles.
- Respiratory disease.
- Cytomegalovirus infection.
- Chicken pox and shingles.
- Cold sores and genital herpes.
- Hand, foot and mouth disease.
The facial nerve infected by the virus can also affect other parts of the face, such as tears, saliva, taste buds and the small bones in the middle ear.
When to See a Doctor for Bell’s Palsy?
Patients with Bell’s palsy should consult a neurologist. The doctor will provide a diagnosis by examining the condition of the patient’s face and asking the patient to try to move parts of the face, such as by blinking the eyes, raising eyebrows, exposing teeth, and frowning.
If the doctor suspects the patient has symptoms of Bell’s palsy, the doctor will try to close the patient’s eyelid on the affected part of the face. If the eyelid is unable to close, the doctor will likely provide the diagnosis that the patient has a bell’s signal or a bell’s phenomenon. In this condition, the patient’s eyes will roll upwards and protrude when attempting to close them.
In some cases, the symptoms of Bell’s palsy are similar to other diseases such as strokes and tumors. Therefore, doctors need to conduct further tests to confirm the patient has Bell’s palsy symptoms.
Some of these additional tests include:
- Electromyography (EMG). A test to examine and record muscle signal activity. This examination will confirm the presence of nerve damage and determine its severity. EMG checks the electrical activity of muscles in response to stimulation and the speed of electrical conduction along nerves.
- Imaging tests. Performed with MRI or CT scan. This examination is useful to rule out other possible causes pressing on the facial nerve, such as a tumor or skull structure problems
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
Some people experience pain in the back of the ear about 1 to 2 days before they notice any damage or abnormality to their facial nerve. Patients have also recorded that they are able to hear at a higher volume prior to the onset of Bell’s palsy.
Broadly speaking, the most common symptoms of Bell’s palsy are:
- Dry mouth.
- Loss of appetite.
- Curved eyelids or corners of the lips.
- Eye irritation, such as dryness or excessive tear production.
- Complete paralysis on one side of the face which occurs gradually over 2 days.
The weakness and drooping on one side of the face usually peaks within 1-2 days. Most patients feel better after a few weeks. The complete recovery may take 3 to 9 months.
In some cases, the patient may experience permanent symptoms.
Treatment for Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy does not require any particular treatment. Most patients recover on their own within three to nine months.
If the doctor suspects that the patient’s symptoms of Bell’s palsy are caused by a virus, for example the genital herpes virus – the doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs such as acyclovir. However, this medication is not always guaranteed to relieve Bell’s palsy symptoms.
The doctor may also prescribe corticosteroid as an anti-inflammatory medication. Corticosteroids work best when taken a few days after symptoms appear.
Apart from medication, physical therapy can also be used to improve the condition of Bell’s palsy. The therapist can help the patient massage and train the facial muscles to prevent rigidity in the face.
In some cases, decompression surgery may also be performed to reduce pressure on the facial nerve by exposing the portion of bone through the face. However, this surgery is highly discouraged due to potential risk of complications, such as facial nerve injury or permanent hearing loss.
Other treatments for Bell’s palsy also include:
- Steroid treatment for 10 days.
- Use of surgical tape to keep your eyes closed while sleeping.
- Eye drops or ointment to reduce dryness of the affected eye.
Treatment Cost for Bell’s Palsy
The cost for Bell’s palsy treatment varies, depending on the symptoms, severity, and the treatment method.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of Bell’s palsy treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy cannot be completely prevented. This is due to an inevitable viral infection.
Most Bell’s palsy cases are caused by the genital herpes virus. Therefore, preventive measure that can be taken is by using protection during sexual intercourse.
Generally, Bell’s palsy only happens once in a person’s lifetime. A person who has had Bell’s palsy is less likely to develop the same symptoms a second time.
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy symptoms normally go away on their own without any special treatment.
One specific treatment that can be done at home is to use surgical plaster every night to ensure the eyes are completely closed while sleeping.
It is also recommended to consume the medicines prescribed by the doctor.