Bells palsy is a type of facial paralysis the result of either trauma or damage to one or two of a persons facial nerves.
Defining Bell's Palsy
Bell's palsy is a type of facial paralysis that is temporary in nature and is the result of either trauma or damage to one or two of a person's facial nerves. Bell's palsy is the most common cause of facial paralysis, and affects only one of the paired facial nerves on one side of a person's face. In rare cases, it may affect both sides. The symptoms of Bell's palsy commonly start quickly, reaching a peak within forty-eight hours, and range in severity from mild weakness to complete paralysis that can include weakness, twitching, or paralysis. A person may experience drooping in relation to their mouth or eyelid, a dry mouth or eye or tearing of their eye, or an impairment of their taste. One of the most common things that Bell's Palsy causes is a significant facial distortion. The majority of scientists are of the belief that a viral infection such as the common cold sore virus or viral meningitis cause Bell's palsy when the person who is affected experiences a swelling of their facial nerve out of a reaction to the virus.
Bell's palsy may also develop over a period of days. Because of the time period that it takes, rather quickly, people may think that they are experiencing a stroke, something that happens when a blood vessel in their brain becomes clogged or bursts. Similar to Bell's palsy, a stroke can paralyze someone's face, but Bell's palsy is caused by nerve trouble; it is not as serious as a stroke. While Bell's palsy may be frightening, it commonly does not last as long and disappears with treatment.
Sir Charles Bell was a Scottish doctor who studied the facial nerves that direct a person's facial moves; Bell's palsy is named after him. People have one facial nerve for each side of their face; the nerves send messages from the brain to the face. These messages control the forehead, the muscles of the person's face, as well as the neck. A person's facial nerves control the expressions they make, from raising their eyebrows, to smiling, or squeezing their eyes shut. Each of their facial nerves starts in their brain, goes through their skull via a thin tube of bone, and exits their skull behind their ear. The nerve then splits into smaller branches of nerves which attach to the person's muscles in their ear, neck, and face. Additional, smaller nerve branches then run to the person's glands which produce saliva, tears, and to the front of their tongue.
When a person's facial nerve becomes infected or is damaged, the nerve swells and presses against the inside of the thin tube of bone mentioned earlier. The nerve then becomes compressed and unable to adequately send signals to the person's muscles in their face, salivary glands, or tongue. The problem paralyzes their face, producing the condition known as Bell's palsy.
Causes of Bell's Palsy
The majority of doctors believe that Bell's palsy may be caused by anything that irritates a person's facial nerve. At times the cause is unknown, although most of the time a virus is the cause of the condition. Lyme disease, particularly among children and adolescents who live in wooded areas, is another cause of Bell's palsy. A few women develop the condition while they are pregnant. Additional causes of Bell's palsy may include:
the flu or a bad cold
injury, like getting hit really hard in the face
the virus that causes cold sores, herpes simplex
Approximately forty-thousand people in America develop Bell's palsy every year. There is no certain means of preventing the condition, although regular hand washing is a good preventative measure because it can prevent the transmission of viruses.
Symptoms of Bell's Palsy
The symptoms of Bell's palsy can appear all at the same time and at once, or they may appear one at a time and over a period of a few days. The symptoms of the condition commonly peak within a few days. Once the symptoms have peaked, the person with the condition will usually improve within a couple of weeks. The symptoms of Bell's palsy can include:
dryness in one eye
trouble closing one eye
half of the face drooping
pain behind or in front of one ear
hearing sounds louder in one ear
difficulty speaking, eating, or drinking
loss of taste at affected parts of the tongue
changes in the amount of saliva in the mouth
twitching, weakness, or stiffness on one side of the face
Diagnosing Bell's Palsy
Many times a doctor can diagnose Bell's palsy simply by looking at the person because their face has a certain appearance. In order to be certain, the doctor may perform tests such as an MRI or a CT scan, to be sure that there are no other causes of the facial weakness the person is experiencing. A neurologist may perform an electromyography (EMG) to show how well the person's facial muscles are receiving signals from their facial nerve, or other testing to look for nerve damage.
Treatment of Bell's Palsy
At this time there is no known cure or standard course of treatment for the condition. Treatment for Bell's palsy involves elimination of the source of nerve damage. Some cases of Bell's palsy are mild and do not require treatment because the symptoms the persons is experiencing subside on their own within a couple of weeks. Other cases require treatment with medications such as acyclovir, a medication that is used to fight viral infections. The medication is used in combination with anti-inflammatory medications such as prednisone in order to reduce both swelling and inflammation. Analgesic medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen can ease pain, yet can also cause potential drug interactions. Decompression surgery for Bell's palsy to relieve pressure on the nerve causing the condition is something that is controversial and is rarely recommended.
The facial nerve repairs itself the majority of the time, and doctors commonly just assist the person to deal with any symptoms they are experiencing until they improve. Very rarely does a doctor perform surgery for Bell's palsy. The majority of the time a doctor will simply prescribe medications as needed to reduce swelling or fight the virus causing the condition in order to speed up the person's recovery.
Massage is an option that people may pursue to keep their facial muscles pliant so they can heal more quickly once their facial nerve heals. A person with Bell's palsy may choose to use an eye patch and eye drops for a period of time. Few people may experience ongoing issues with one eye, facial muscles, or their sinuses; the majority of people affected by the condition make a full recovery. The symptoms a person affected by Bell's palsy experiences can disappear suddenly, or improve slowly each day.