Bell’s palsy or idiopathic facial paralysis (IFP) is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage, inflammation, or trauma to the facial nerve.
The facial nerve is also called cranial nerve VII. The disorder is the most common cause of facial paralysis. It is not due to a stroke. Generally, Bell’s palsy affects only one of the paired facial nerves and one side of the face, however, in rare cases, it can affect both sides.
Bell’s palsy afflicts approximately 40,000 Americans each year. It affects men and women equally and can occur at any age, but it is less common before age 15 or after age 60. The annual incidence of Bell’s palsy in the United States is approximately 23 cases per 100,000 persons.
The signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy may include a rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis of one side of your face. This can occur within hours to days. Other noticeable signs include facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling. Other symptoms include drooling, pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side, and increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side. Additional symptoms include headache, a decrease in your ability to taste, and changes in the production of your saliva and tears.
There is no definitive cause for Bell’s palsy. It is often linked to exposure to a viral infections such as herpes zoster and Epstein-Barr. In addition, Lyme disease can cause facial palsy. There is also an increased incidence of cases with patients who have diabetes. Your doctor will review your symptoms, medical history, and physical examination to decide if conditions such as stroke, certain tumors, Lyme disease, infection, injury/trauma, or other disorders might be causing the facial paralysis.
Treatment for Bell’s palsy includes corticosteroids and antiviral medications. These medications include prednisone and acyclovir. It usually gets better on its own with most people starting to regain normal facial function within 3 weeks of onset of symptoms. It is also important to protect a patients’ eyes during recovery. Blinking and tear production can be interrupted due to Bell’s palsy. Therefore, artificial tears and eye patches may be helpful.
The prognosis for patients with Bell’s palsy is generally very good. Improvement is gradual and recovery times vary. As always, early diagnosis is important for the best outcome.
If you suspect facial paralysis, please call and consult with your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room for treatment.
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