Bell’s Palsy is a facial paralysis of one side of the face. It is caused due to damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face. It is named after Scottish anatomist Charles Bell who first described it and is the most common cause of facial paralysis.
The cause of this paralysis is unknown however it is not the result of a stroke. This condition often occurs overnight with a rapid onset of partial or complete paralysis. Usually the condition gets better on its own.
It is believed that some viruses (like herpes simplex or varicella zoster) are responsible for the inflammation of the face. It is also believed that the viruses are not rooted out completed after you have a chickenpox. These viruses remain inactive for months or years and become active for reasons unknown. In some cases these re-activated viruses are thought to cause inflammation and thus Bell’s Palsy.
People diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy present with myriad symptoms including the following:
- Loss of taste sensation on portion of tongue on the affected side
- Neck pain
- Drooping of eyelid and corner of mouth
- Dryness of eye or mouth
- Balance problems
- Discomfort towards loud sounds
- Tearing in one eye
- Memory problems
- Difficulty with speech
- Difficulty in closing one eye
Generally a doctor diagnosis Bell’s Palsy by ruling out other causes of the problem and by examining the patient’s symptoms and conditions. In some cases certain tests are required. Blood tests are sometimes done to identify concurrent problems like diabetes and other infections. MRI or CT scan is done to rule out other causes of pressure on the facial nerve.
Some cases are mild and the condition cures by itself however in some cases medical intervention is required. Medical treatment is done mainly to establish a good blood supply and reduce the oedema around the face. Medications include steroids to reduce the inflammation, analgesics to reduce the pain, lubricating eye drops and eye patches are used to protect the eyes. Physical therapy is recommended for some patients to stimulate the facial nerve and regain the muscle tone. In rare cases surgical treatment is required. It is indicated when there is clear evidence of nerve degeneration, recurrent facial paralysis and incomplete return of facial nerve function. There are a number of surgical techniques, smile surgery being one which is used to restore the smile for patients with the facial paralysis.