Bell’s palsy is a temporary paralysis of the face caused by inflammation, compression or trauma to the facial nerve. Typically, the disorder only affects one side of the face, and the resulting physical distortion occurs suddenly and peaks within 48 hours. Because of the facial paralysis and possible affected speech, Bell’s palsy may be confused with a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), but Bell’s palsy is not connected with either of these conditions. Stroke warning signs may also include arm weakness, vision problems, trouble walking and severe headache.
If you experience any type of paralysis in your body, do not try to self-diagnose. Seek medical help immediately.
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
Symptoms of Bell’s palsy vary in severity with each person. Common symptoms include:
- Facial muscle weakness, numbness or paralysis
- Drooping of eyelid or corner of the mouth
- Drooling or little saliva
- Dryness of eye or mouth
- Excessive tearing in one eye
- Change in or loss of taste
Other symptoms can include pain behind the ear or around the jaw, headache, dizziness, ringing of the ears, or heightened sensitivity to sound. It may be challenging to fully smile, frown, blink, or open and close the eyes.
Starting Treatment Within 72 Hours
Although most people completely recover from Bell’s palsy within three to six months, many medical practitioners advise starting corticosteroids within 72 hours of initial symptoms. Steroids such as prednisone help reduce swelling and inflammation of the facial nerve (also called the 7th cranial nerve). A small percentage of people with Bell’s palsy will experience permanent facial muscle weakness or other lingering symptoms. In rare cases, the condition can reappear on either side of the face.
At-home care for Bell’s palsy includes exercises to tighten and relax facial muscles and massaging one’s lips, cheeks and forehead. Moisturizing drops can help with eye dryness. For decreased saliva or food catching around the gums and teeth, try frequent brushing and flossing.
Cause of Bell’s Palsy
While the root cause of Bell’s palsy is unknown, a viral infection such as a cold sore virus or viral meningitis is often suspect. The facial condition inflicts an estimated 40,000 Americans a year, particularly those with diabetes or an upper respiratory infection or who are pregnant. Usually, the disorder affects individuals between the ages of 15 and 60.
If you or someone you know has had Bell’s palsy or a stroke, please briefly share your experience. Thank you for helping us be aware of identifying these conditions.
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.