What is Bell’s Palsy?
It is a form of temporary facial paralysis that can affect any one of any age, sex, or gender but is not as common before the age of fifteen or after the age of sixty. It will usually only affect one side of your face but in rare cases it can affect both sides. This medical condition is named for a Scottish surgeon who lived during the nineteenth century by the name of Charles Bell. He was the first one to describe this disorder. It is a common reason for face paralysis to occur. Bell’s palsy affects approximately forty thousand people a year.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy will normally happen very suddenly, usually overnight or it can take days. The main symptom of this medical condition is a sudden paralysis or weakness on one side of your face that make your face droop on that side. Other symptoms include:
- You may find it hard to shut your eye on the side that is affected.
- Having problems with your eye such as dry eye or tearing excessively.
- Your taste may be affected make it hard to taste anything or taste just a particular food.
- Pain behind or in your ear and jaw area.
- Your face may feel numb on the side affected.
- More sensitive to sound.
- Having trouble speaking.
- The inability to suck through a straw.
- Sometimes you will have trouble drinking out of a glass.
- Drooping of the eyelid.
- Twitching at the corner of your mouth or eye twitching on the affected side.
- Your smile is lopsided and you may not even be able to smile at all.
- Facial droop making it hard to make any type of facial expressions.
- Change in the amount of saliva you produce.
Some people have described the symptoms of Bell’s palsy as feeling like you are having a stroke. The symptoms vary from person to person. Some may have symptoms while others have a lot. You usually do not have all the symptoms at once but they gradually appear. The symptoms will usually start to improve in a few weeks but a full recovery can take at least six months. There are some people who continue to have some of the symptoms but it rare that it can recur.
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is not really known but there are various things that seem to trigger it.
It is often thought that Bell’s palsy was linked to the virus that causes:
- Herpes simplex that can cause genital herpes and cold sores
- Herpes zoster that causes shingles and chickenpox
- Mononucleosis also known as Epstein-Barr
- Cytomegalovirus infections
- Adenovirus that cause respiratory illnesses
- Rubella also called German Measles
- Mumps virus
- Influenza B
- Coxsackievirus which causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease
It has also been said that it can be caused by other medical conditions such as:
- Facial injury
- Skull fractures
In most of the cases of Bell’s palsy the cause is inflammation that damages the nerve that controls muscles on one side of your face. The nerve can also be compressed or swollen. Many times if a physician cannot find what is causing the paralysis or weakness on one side of the face they will diagnosis it as Bell’s palsy.
Because Bell’s palsy affects everyone differently the treatment that is done will depend on the individual and how severe or mild there case is. In some cases it is so mild that no treatment but one is needed because the symptoms will go away on their own within a couple of weeks. In other cases a person may need medication, therapeutic treatments, and even surgery. No matter if the case is mild, moderate, or severe there is one treatment is very important.
The treatment needed that is extremely important is eye protection. Because Bell’s palsy can leave a person with a dry eye and possibly the inability to close the eye on the affected side, you must protect it to make sure that no permanent damage is done to the eye. You must make sure that you are keeping that eye moist because if not it will be very irritated and itchy, and you do not want to make the condition worse by rubbing it. You can use lubricating eye drops like artificial tears and an eye patch or some type of covering. You can also apply warm compresses to the affected eye to help with the irritation and itching.
- When you visit your physician they will usually prescribe the steroid Prednisone to help reduce the swelling and inflammation. How long you will be on steroids depends on the severity of the case and what your physician deems necessary. You can also take over-the-counter medication to help with the pain.
- Physical therapy to stimulate the facial nerve.
- In some cases there may be the need for surgery called decompression surgery which is where the surgeon will decompress the nerve in order to relieve the pressure on the nerve but this treatment is seldom recommended.
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