Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to one of the facial nerves. It is the most common cause of facial paralysis.
The condition is named for Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon who studied the nerve and its innervation of the facial muscles 200 years ago.
Bells palsy is not as uncommon as is generally believed. Worldwide statistics set the frequency at approximately .02% of the population (with geographical variations). In human terms this is 1 of every 5000 people, and 40,000 Americans every year.
- Bell’s palsy often causes significant facial distortion
- 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
- Most scientists believe that a viral infection such as viral meningitis or the common cold sore virus — herpes simplex– can cause the disorder when the facial nerve swells and becomes inflamed in reaction to the infection
- Symptoms of Bell’s palsy usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours
- Symptoms vary from person to person and can range in severity from mild weakness to total paralysis
- These symptoms include twitching, weakness, or paralysis, drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth, drooling, dry eye or mouth, impairment of taste, and excessive tearing in the eye
- Recent studies have shown that steroids such as prednisone — used to reduce inflammation and swelling — are an effective treatment for Bell’s palsy
- Other drugs such as acyclovir — used to fight viral herpes infections — may also have some benefit in shortening the course of the disease
- Analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen may relieve pain
- Because of possible drug interactions, individuals should always talk to their doctors before taking any over-the-counter medicines
- Keeping the eye moist and protecting it from debris and injury, especially at night, is important
- Physical therapy to stimulate the facial nerve and help maintain muscle tone may benefit some individuals.