Bell’s Palsy

Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles in one side of the face.  It is the most common cause of facial paralysis.

Symptoms are different among patients.  Weakness on one side of the face can vary and be described as either partial (mild muscle weakness) or complete (no movement at all).

Only in rare cases is there complete or partial paralysis on both sides of a person’s face.

Muscle weakness can also affect the eyelid, making it difficult to open or close one’s eye. 

The root cause of Bell’s palsy is not known, but many researchers believe that the herpes virus is responsible. 

Bell’s Palsy is rare and affects about 1 in 5,000 people, ages 15-45, both men and women equally.  It is more common in pregnant women and those with diabetes and HIV, for unknown reasons. 

Symptoms most often start suddenly, but can take 2-3 days to show up.  Sometime a patient can have a cold shortly before the symptoms of Bell’s palsy begin.  The face will feel stiff or pulled to one side, and may look different.  Other symptoms one may experience:

  1. Difficulty eating and drinking; food falls out of one side of the mouth
  2. Drooling due to lack of control over the muscles of the face
  3. Drooping of the face, such as the eyelid or corner of the mouth
  4. Hard to close one eye
  5. Problems smiling, grimacing, or making facial expressions
  6. Twitching or weakness of the muscles in the face

Tests will be conducted to rule out a brain tumor, such as a CT scan and/or MRI of the head.  Nerve tests that may be conducted are Electromyography (EMG) and/or a Nerve Conduction Test. 

Often, no treatment is needed for Bell’s Palsy.  Symptoms often begin to improve right away.  However, it may take weeks or even months for the muscles to get stronger, and this can be frustrating.  Lubricating eye drops or ointments can be used to keep the surface of the eye moist if a patient cannot close it completely.  An eye patch may be necessary during sleep. 

Most cases of Bell’s Palsy go away within a few weeks or months. 

Sources: www.Medscape.com and www.NIH.gov