Facial nerve disorders

Treatment for Bell’s palsy and more.

The facial nerve is responsible for carrying electrical impulses from the brain to the facial muscles, enabling us to laugh, cry, smile and frown. When these signals are interrupted, facial paralysis occurs. This may be either temporary or permanent, and usually affects one side of the face only.

Fortunately, most facial paralysis is temporary and goes away completely within a few months. You may experience lasting side effects that include changes in taste, muscle and eyelid spasms, and facial muscle weakness. In any case, you need to see one of our specialists for a personalized care plan.

Facial paralysis occurs when the facial nerve fibers are irritated or disrupted. A number of factors can cause this, including infections, injuries, tumors, and strokes. The most common factor is a condition known as Bell’s palsy.

Other conditions that can cause facial paralysis include physical trauma, stroke, Lyme disease, sarcoidosis, Moebius syndrome, herpes and tumors.

Facial paralysis can affect anyone, but it is most prominent in people over the age of 40 or those with diabetes, upper respiratory disorders, weakened immune systems, and pregnant women.

Facial nerve problems are diagnosed through a series of tests. These might include:

  • Electrical nerve stimulation tests to check for facial muscle responsiveness
  • Hearing and balance tests to measure the response of the auditory nerve
  • Imaging tests (CT scan or MRI) to visually determine whether facial nerve problems are being caused by infection, fractures or tumors
  • Tear, taste and salivation tests to determine the severity of nerve lesions

Your personalized treatment plan depends on the results of your tests, and is designed to eliminate the source of the nerve damage. Antibiotics are prescribed for infections, while steroids can be used to combat swelling. Decompression surgery to remove the bone surrounding the facial nerve can help in some situations. Physical therapy is often recommended to help with long-term results.

Bell’s palsy is often to blame for facial paralysis. It affects 30,000 to 40,000 Americans every year, and occurs when the facial nerve becomes inflamed.

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Difficulty blinking or closing one eye
  • Drooling
  • Ear pain
  • Facial droopiness or swelling
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Trouble speaking, eating and drinking
  • Twitching of facial muscles

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Bell’s Palsy Fact Sheet (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/bells-palsy-fact-sheet)

MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Facial paralysis (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003028.htm)

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Bell’s Palsy Fact Sheet (https://www.ninds.nih.gov/bells-palsy-fact-sheet)