Bell's palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.
Bell's palsy, also known as facial palsy, can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. It may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.
For most people, Bell's palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell's palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell's palsy can recur.
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
Facial weakness or paralysis may cause one corner of your mouth to droop. If you're experiencing facial weakness or paralysis, you may have trouble closing the eye on the affected side of your face. ...
Although the exact reason Bell's palsy occurs isn't clear, it's often linked to exposure to a viral infection. Viruses that have been linked to Bell's palsy include the virus that causes:
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 related to a viral infection. Besides facial muscles, the nerve affects tears, saliva, taste and a small bone in the middle of your ear.
The nerve that controls your facial muscles passes through a narrow corridor of bone on its way to your face. ...
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. For Bell's palsy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
If your eye won't close completely, try these tips:
Tests and diagnosis
There's no specific test for Bell's palsy. Your doctor will look at your face and ask 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 — can also cause facial muscle weakness, mimicking Bell's palsy. If it's not clear why you're having the symptoms you are, your doctor may recommend other tests, including:
Treatments and drugs
Most people with Bell's palsy recover fully — with or without treatment. There's no one-size-fits-all treatment for Bell's palsy, but your doctor may suggest medications or physical therapy to help speed your recovery. Surgery is rarely an option for Bell's palsy.
In rare cases, plastic surgery may be needed to correct lasting facial nerve problems.
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: 2012-03-27
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