Bell's palsy is a common condition in which inflammation or damage to the facial nerve causes muscle paralysis on one side of the face. The disorder tends to come on suddenly, causing half of the face to droop and feel numb to the touch. Most episodes are relatively short-lived, and symptoms may go away on their own within two to three weeks. Doctors usually suggest seeking medical treatment, however, to ease symptoms and promote faster recovery time.
It is often difficult to identify an underlying cause of nerve inflammation, and many cases of Bell's palsy are deemed idiopathic. There is evidence suggesting that certain types of viruses, including herpes simplex and Epstein-Barr, can attack and damage the facial nerve. Diabetes is also known to affect blood vessels and nerves in the face, which can increase the likelihood of developing the condition. In addition, some people appear to be genetically predisposed to nerve problems.
Bell's palsy symptoms usually come about quickly, sometimes within minutes. Either the left or right side of the face starts to feel weak and tingly, and there may be dull pain in the jaw region. Total paralysis can occur in a few hours or days, which makes it impossible to open or close the affected eye and half of the mouth. Other symptoms may include a progressively worsening headache, sound sensitivity, drooling, and increased tear production.
A person who believes he or she may be experiencing Bell's palsy symptoms should seek medical care right away. Several other more serious conditions can also cause facial paralysis, including strokes and cancerous tumors. A doctor can rule out other causes by taking magnetic resonance imaging scans and electroencephalographs to look for physical abnormalities or changes in brain activity. Blood tests may be performed to confirm the presence of a particular virus. After making a diagnosis, the physician can explain different treatment options.
Patients with mild Bell's palsy may simply be instructed to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and regularly massage their faces to help improve symptoms. A moderate to severe case might require a corticosteroid injection to immediately relieve inflammation and a prescription for antivirals to clear up infection. A patient may also be instructed to use moisturizing eye drops and wear an eye patch at night to avoid irritation. Most people are able to experience full recoveries from their symptoms within one month, though some individuals experience frequently recurring episodes of Bell's palsy.