Bell's palsy occurs when the nerve that controls facial muscles on one side of your face becomes swollen or inflamed. As a result of Bell's palsy, your face feels stiff. Half your face appears to droop, your smile is one-sided, and your eye resists closing.
Bell's palsy can affect anyone, but rarely affects people under the age of 15 or over the age of 60.
For most people, Bell's palsy symptoms improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in three to six months. About 10 percent will experience a recurrence of Bell's palsy, sometimes on the other side of the face. A small number of people continue to have some Bell's palsy signs and symptoms for life.
Signs and symptoms of Bell's palsy come on suddenly, and may include:
In rare cases, Bell's palsy can affect the nerves on both sides of your face.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you experience facial weakness or drooping, to determine the underlying cause and severity of the illness.
Ramsay Hunt syndrome may cause one corner of your mouth to droop, and you may have trouble retaining saliva on that side of your mouth. The condition may also make it difficult to close the eye on ...
The most common cause of Bell's palsy appears to be the herpes simplex virus, which also causes cold sores and genital herpes. Other viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include:
With Bell's palsy, the nerve that controls your facial muscles, which passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to your face, becomes inflamed and swollen — usually from a viral infection. Besides facial muscles, the nerve affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of your ear.
A shingles infection of the facial nerve causes Ramsay Hunt syndrome. ...
Bell's palsy occurs more often in people who:
Also, some people who have recurrent attacks of Bell's palsy, which is rare, have a family history of recurrent attacks. In those cases, there may be a genetic predisposition to Bell's palsy.
Although a mild case of Bell's palsy normally disappears within a month, recovery from a case involving total paralysis varies. Complications may include:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll likely start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a neurologist.
It's good to prepare for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. List your questions from most important to least important. For Bell's palsy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions that occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
If you're eye won't close completely, try these tips:
Tests and diagnosis
No specific laboratory test can confirm a diagnosis of Bell's palsy. Your doctor may be able to make a preliminary diagnosis of Bell's palsy by looking at your face and asking you to move your facial muscles by closing your eyes, lifting your brow, showing your teeth and frowning, among other movements.
Other conditions — such as a stroke, infections, Lyme disease and tumors — also may cause facial muscle weakness, mimicking Bell's palsy. If your diagnosis is still in question, your doctor may recommend other tests, including:
Treatments and drugs
Most people with Bell's palsy recover fully — with or without treatment. But your doctor may suggest medications or physical therapy to help speed your recovery. Surgery is rarely an option for Bell's palsy.
Some clinical studies show benefit from early treatment with corticosteroids, antivirals or a combination of both types of drugs. Other studies don't. Evidence of the effectiveness of corticosteroids appears to be stronger than that for antiviral drugs, and they tend to be most effective when given within three days of the appearance of symptoms.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Home treatment may include:
Although there's little scientific evidence to support the use of alternative medicine for people with Bell's palsy, some people with the condition may benefit from the following:
Last Updated: 2010-02-02
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