If you’ve recently had a viral infection or suffered an injury to the head and are noticing some unusual symptoms in your face, pay attention to them. Twitching, drooping, facial paralysis on one or both sides of the face, excess tear production (or drying) of your eyes may all be signs of Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy, while generally not a permanent condition, is one that your doctor will have to diagnose and treat.
The Most Common Cause of Facial Paralysis
Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary paralysis of the face from damage or trauma to the facial nerves. Each facial nerve controls the muscles on one side of the face. These muscles are responsible for blinking, smiling or frowning, as well as some tasting, salivating and tearing. Anything that can cause this nerve to become inflamed, compressed or swollen can result in Bell’s palsy. Common causes include a viral infection such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus – herpes simplex – influenza or a flu-like illness, headaches, chronic middle ear infection, high blood pressure, diabetes, sarcoidosis, tumors, Lyme disease and trauma such as a skull fracture or facial injury.
Many patients confuse Bell’s palsy with cerebral palsy or a stroke.
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are usually easy to spot. Look for:
- Paralysis, twitching or weakness on one side of the face that comes on suddenly
- Extremely dry/extremely teary eyes
- Difficulty closing the eyelid
- Drooping of the mouth or eye
- Too much saliva, resulting in drooling from one side of the mouth
- Altered sense of taste
- Having a hard time making normal facial expressions
- Sensitivity to sound
- Pain near the ear on the affected side
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor.
Treatment Options and Long-Term Effects
If you’re seeing any of the symptoms of Bell’s palsy, it’s important to get to a physician quickly. Your physician might treat you with a corticosteroid to assure that you regain all of your facial movement, but this treatment works best if it is given within three days of the symptoms appearing.
Your doctor will also rule out other reasons for facial paralysis that could potentially be serious before confirming a Bell’s palsy diagnosis.
Mild cases may not require treatment as symptoms will usually go away on their own within a couple of weeks. For other cases, steroids to reduce inflammation and swelling, analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain and other therapies such as physical therapy, facial massage or acupuncture may be prescribed, along with eye care recommendations.
Recovery times vary with Bell’s palsy, and can range from two weeks to six months or longer. In rare cases, the disorder may recur, either on the same or opposite side of the face.
Dr. Mihir Shah is a board-certified Internal Medicine specialist at Kelsey-Seybold. He’s accepting new and current patients at The Vintage Clinic. Dr. Shah’s clinical interests include helping patients manage acute illnesses as well as chronic medical conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol and obesity.