The visible symptoms of Bell’s Palsy make the condition extremely distressing for its victim.
Although virtually anyone of any age can suffer a bout of Bell’s Palsy, the victims are seldom the very young or the elderly. The incidence of the disease in both sexes, and all races, is about equal. However, women in the last trimester of pregnancy, diabetics, and those with compromised immune systems, or upper respiratory system infections, are at greater risk.
This condition is called Bell’s Palsy after Sir Charles Bell, a Scottish surgeon and anatomist, who studied the facial nerve around two hundred years ago.
Bell’s Palsy is caused when the nerve that affects the facial muscles becomes inflamed, probably due to a virus similar to those that cause herpes simplex, shingles, chickenpox, and mononucleosis. The virus causes inflammation in the area around the nerve which affects the facial muscles. This inflammation interferes with the nerve’s ability to send messages to the facial muscles. Hence they do not react normally. In addition to its affect on facial muscles, Bell’s Palsy can affect taste and hearing as well as the production of tears and saliva. Bell’s Palsy only affects the face. It is vital to see you physician immediately if you have any symptoms that may be of concern. This is important to rule out other conditions and diseases with similar symptoms as well as to start treatment, if necessary, as soon as possible.
Bell’s Palsy almost always affects only one side of the face. There can be a wide range of symptoms, the severity of which varies, from individual to individual. The muscles on the affected side may be weak or paralyzed. The face appears to droop, especially around the eyelid and mouth. It may be impossible to close the eye. There may be pain around the ear or in the jaw. The nose may run and the mouth may drool or be abnormally dry. The forehead will not wrinkle. It will be difficult to eat, drink, and even speak.
The majority of those with Bell’s Palsy recover quite rapidly and completely in just a few months. Others may take as long as a year and a very few may have some symptoms throughout life. Bell’s Palsy can reoccur on the same side of the face or the opposite side. Bell’s Palsy is not contagious.
Most individuals recover completely from Bell’s Palsy with no treatment at all. However, if symptoms are severe or the condition does not soon show signs of improvement, your physician may suggest treatment. If symptoms are mild, over-the-counter pain medications may be sufficient. There is some evidence that early treatment with anti inflammatory or anti viral drugs may speed up recovery significantly. Your physician may also suggest physiotherapy to keep the facial muscles from permanent changes. Care must be taken to keep the affected eye constantly lubricated. Surgery may also be an option.
Because of the devastating psychological affects that Bell’s Palsy can have on its victims, it is important that family and friends provide ongoing emotional support.