Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes muscle weakness or paralysis in the facial muscles. When a person has Bell’s palsy, it looks like their face is drooping on one side. It is possible for Bell’s palsy to affect both sides of the face, however this is rarely seen. Bell’s palsy is also known as facial palsy. It is unclear what causes Bell’s palsy, however some believe that it is caused by inflammation and swelling that occurs in the nerve that controls the muscles on the side of the face that it affects. It may also be caused by a viral infection that affects your nerves. The condition can occur at any age. There are about 40,000 people in the United States that develop Bell's palsy each year.
Bell’s palsy is usually not permanent. Most people only experience symptoms that are temporary. Within just a few weeks, the symptoms of Bell’s palsy usually go away. It also usually takes about six months to make a complete recovery. Although rare, it is possible for some people to have Bell’s palsy for the rest of their life. It is also uncommon for the condition to recur one you have already had it.
The signs and symptoms of Bell’s palsy often appear suddenly. They include rapid onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face which occurs within hours to days, facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions (such as closing your eye or smiling), drooling, pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side, increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side, headache, a decrease in your ability to taste, or changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce.
There are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing Bell’s palsy. The risk factors for Bell’s palsy include being pregnant (especially during the third trimester, or are in the first week after giving birth), having an upper respiratory infection (such as the flu or a cold), or having diabetes. In some cases, people who have a family history of recurring Bell’s palsy may have a higher risk for having recurring instances of the condition. This may indicate that there is a genetic predisposition for Bell’s palsy in the family.
Treatment for Bell’s palsy may include medications such as corticosteroids or antiviral drugs, or physical therapy.