Bell’s Palsy Fact Sheet

What is Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy is a form of temporary facial paralysis resulting from damage or trauma to the facial nerves. When Bell’s palsy occurs, the function of the facial nerve is disrupted, causing an interruption in the messages the brain sends to the facial muscles. This interruption results in facial weakness or paralysis.

The disorder, which is not related to stroke, is the most common cause of facial paralysis. 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.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy can vary from person to person and range in severity from mild weakness to total paralysis.  These symptoms may include twitching, weakness, or paralysis on one or rarely both sides of the face.  Other symptoms may include drooping of the eyelid and corner of the mouth, drooling, dryness of the eye or mouth, impairment of taste, and excessive tearing in one eye. Most often these symptoms, which usually begin suddenly and reach their peak within 48 hours, lead to significant facial distortion.

Other symptoms may include pain or discomfort around the jaw and behind the ear, ringing in one or both ears, headache, loss of taste, hypersensitivity to sound on the affected side, impaired speech, dizziness, and difficulty eating or drinking.

What Causes Bell’s Palsy?

Bell’s palsy occurs when the nerve that controls the facial muscles is swollen, inflamed, or compressed, resulting in facial weakness or paralysis. Exactly what causes this damage, however, is unknown.

How is it Treated?

Bell’s palsy affects each individual differently.  Some cases are mild and do not require treatment as the symptoms usually subside on their own within 2 weeks.  For others, treatment may include medications and other therapeutic options.  If an obvious source is found to cause Bell’s palsy (e.g., infection), directed treatment can be beneficial.

Another imp
ortant factor in treatment is eye protection. Bell’s palsy can interrupt the eyelid’s natural blinking ability, leaving the eye exposed to irritation and drying.  Therefore, keeping the eye moist and protecting the eye from debris and injury, especially at night, is important.  Lubricating eye drops, such as artificial tears or eye ointments or gels, and eye patches are also effective.

Physical therapy to stimulate the facial nerve and help maintain muscle tone may be beneficial to some individuals.  Facial massage and exercises may help prevent permanent contractures (shrinkage or shortening of muscles) of the paralyzed muscles before recovery takes place. Moist heat applied to the affected side of the face may help reduce pain.

What is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for individuals with Bell’s palsy is generally very good.  The extent of nerve damage determines the extent of recovery.  Improvement is gradual and recovery times vary.  With or without treatment, most individuals begin to get better within 2 weeks after the initial onset of symptoms and most recover completely, returning to normal function within 3 to 6 months.  For some, however, the symptoms may last longer.  In a few cases, the symptoms may never completely disappear.  In rare cases, the disorder may recur, either on the same or the opposite side of the face.

Did you know?

George Clooney suffered Bell’s Palsy as a teenager.

Bell’s Palsy or Stroke?

Symptoms of Bell’s palsy and stoke can be very similar, however the symptoms of Bell’s Palsy is only found in the face, and a stroke affects the whole body.

Signs of Stroke

By asking 3 simple questions you can recognise stroke FAST

Facial paralysis – Can the person smile?

Arm  – Can the person raise both arms?

Speech – Can the person speak clearly?

Time – If the answers to these questions are no – Call 000 immediately.

 

If a person is showing signs of facial paralysis, you should ALWAYS seek medical attention.

 

source: www.ninds.nih.gov, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, medilife.edu.au

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