Bell's palsy, also known as facial palsy, affects approximately 40,000 Americans per year, men and women equally. It causes a sudden profound weakness in your facial muscles, causing one half of your face to droop. Your smile is “one-sided,” and the eye on the affected half of your face will refuse to close.
The good news is that Bell's palsy is almost always temporary. Recovery usually begins after a few weeks and is complete within six months. It is possible, albeit rare, for some people to exhibit symptoms for life and/or for the condition to recur. In very rare cases, the condition can affect both sides of your face.
Science still does not know what causes Bell's palsy. The most prevalent theory is that it is the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. Another educated guess has it a reaction that occurs after a viral infection. The viruses that cause the following have also been linked to Bell's palsy:
· Cold sores and genital herpes
· Chickenpox and shingles
· Cytomegalovirus infections
· Respiratory illnesses
· German measles
· Hand-foot-and-mouth disease
See a doctor immediately if you experience any of these Bell's palsy symptoms:
· Swift onset of mild weakness to total paralysis on one side of your face — occurring within hours to days
· Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling
· Pain around the jaw or in or behind your ear on the affected side
· Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side
· A decrease in your ability to taste
· Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce
Bell's palsy is not a stroke, although some of the symptoms are quite similar.
There is no specific test for Bell's palsy, but your doctor can confirm the presence of nerve damage and determine its severity with electromyography. He may also use magnetic resonance imaging and/or computerized tomography to rule out conditions with similar symptoms.
Once diagnosed as Bell's palsy, your doctor is likely to prescribe corticosteroids for your condition. These are potent anti-inflammatory drugs which may reduce the swelling of the facial nerve.
Physical therapy, in the form of self-massage and facial exercises, may also be recommended.