What is Bell’s palsy?
Bell’s palsy is an unexplained
episode of facial muscle weakness or paralysis. It begins suddenly and can worsen over
48 hours. This condition results from damage to the facial nerve (the 7th cranial
nerve). Pain and discomfort usually occur on one side of the face or head.
Bell’s palsy can strike anyone at any age. It occurs most often in pregnant women, and people who have diabetes, influenza, a cold, or another upper respiratory ailment. Bell’s palsy affects men and woman equally. It is less common before age 15 or after age 60.
Bell’s palsy is not considered
permanent. But in rare cases, it does not disappear. Currently, there is no known cure
for Bell’s palsy. Recovery, though, usually begins 2 weeks to 6 months from the onset of
the symptoms. Most people with Bell’s palsy recover full facial strength and
What causes Bell’s palsy?
The cause of Bell’s palsy is not known. It is thought that it may be due to inflammation that is directed by the body’s immune system against the nerve controlling movement of the face. Bell’s palsy is sometimes associated with the following:
- High blood pressure
- Lyme disease
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Infection, especially following a
viral infection with Herpes simplex virus. This is a virus that is related to the
cause of the common “cold sores” of the mouth.
What are the symptoms of Bell’s palsy?
These are the most common symptoms of Bell’s palsy:
- Disordered movement of the muscles
that control facial expressions, such as smiling, squinting, blinking, or closing the
- Loss of the sense of taste on the
front 2/3 of the tongue
- Hypersensitivity to sound in the
affected ear (hyperacusis)
- Inability to close the eye on the
affected side of the face
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy may
look like other health problems, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, myasthenia, and
multiple sclerosis. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is Bell’s palsy diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can
usually diagnose Bell’s palsy by looking at your symptoms. There are no specific tests
used to diagnose Bell’s palsy. But your healthcare provider may order tests to rule out
other conditions that can cause similar symptoms and to determine the extent of nerve
involvement or damage. These tests may include:
- Electromyography (EMG) to determine
the extent of the nerve involvement
- Blood tests to determine if another
condition such as diabetes or Lyme disease is present
- MRI or CT scan to find out if there is
a structural cause for your symptoms