- Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes temporary paralysis of the muscles in one side of your face
- The cause is unknown, but it is believed to be due to damage to the facial nerve.
- Symptoms include weakness or paralysis of the muscles on one side of the face, drooping of the eyelid, and drooling.
- Treatment is typical with corticosteroids and antiviral drugs.
- Most people recover from Bell’s palsy within a few weeks to months.
What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes weakness or paralysis on one side of the face. This can cause drooping of the eyelid or corner of the mouth and can make it difficult to blink or smile.
The paralysis is caused by damage to the seventh cranial nerve, which controls the muscles on that side of the face.
Bell’s palsy can affect people of all ages, but it is most common in adults aged 15-60. The condition is twice as common in women as it is in men.
Why does it occur?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) explains that the cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown. (1)
But, some scientists believe that it may be the result of a viral infection, such as the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is the same virus that causes cold sores. (2)
Other possible causes include:
- Trauma to the facial nerve
- Autoimmune disorders
- Lyme disease
- Epstein-Barr virus
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom of Bell’s palsy is paralysis on one side of your face.
You may also have:
- Drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth
- Difficulty making facial expressions, such as smiling or frowning.
- Muscle twitches in the face
- Eye dryness
- Increased tear production
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurry vision
- Decreased ability to taste
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus) or changes in hearing
- Pain behind the ear
- Difficulty eating and drinking
The Cleveland Clinic points out that the symptoms of Bell’s palsy usually appear suddenly and reach their peak within 48 to 72 hours. (3)
Healthline explains that some people with Bell’s palsy experience only mild symptoms, while others may have more severe paralysis. (4)
How is it diagnosed?
There’s no one test to diagnose Bell’s palsy.
Instead, your doctor will likely ask about your medical history and symptoms.
They may also do a physical exam, during which they will check your face for muscle weakness.
Your doctor may also order some tests, such as:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- CT scan
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Nerve conduction study
What are the treatment options?
There is no cure for Bell’s palsy, but there are treatments that can help improve your symptoms.
These treatments can include:
- Corticosteroids: These drugs can help reduce inflammation and swelling around the affected nerve.
- Anti-viral medications: If your doctor thinks a virus might be causing your Bell’s palsy, they may prescribe an anti-viral medication.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help stretch and strengthen your facial muscles.
- Eye drops: If you have dry eyes, your doctor may prescribe eye drops to help lubricate your eyes.
- Over-the-counter pain medications: These can help relieve any pain you may be experiencing.
How long does Bell’s Palsy last?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, most people with Bell’s palsy start to see an improvement in their symptoms within two weeks.
But it can take up to six months for the paralysis to completely go away. (5)
What are the complications?
In some cases, Bell’s palsy can lead to complications, such as:
- Chronic pain
- Muscle contractures
- Recurrent Bell’s palsy
When should you see a doctor?
You should see your doctor if you experience any sudden weakness or paralysis in your face.
You should also see your doctor if you have any other symptoms of Bell’s palsy, such as a drooping eyelid or corner of the mouth, difficulty making facial expressions, or muscle twitches in your face.
If you have Bell’s palsy, your doctor will likely prescribe a course of treatment to help improve your symptoms.
In most cases, the paralysis goes away on its own within a few weeks or months.
But, if your symptoms are severe or last longer than six months, your doctor may refer you to a specialist.