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Bell's palsy is an unexplained episode of facial muscle weakness or paralysis. It begins suddenly and worsens 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; however, recovery usually begins 2 weeks to 6 months from the onset of the symptoms. Most people with Bell's palsy recover full facial strength and expression.
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:
These are the most common symptoms of Bell's palsy:
The symptoms of Bell's palsy may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
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. However, 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:
It is important that your healthcare provider rule out the presence of a stroke or tumor that may cause symptoms similar to Bell’s palsy.
If a specific cause for Bell’s palsy is identified, such as infection, that cause will be treated. Otherwise, the symptoms are treated as needed.
One uniformly recommended treatment for Bell's palsy is protecting the eye from drying at night or while working at a computer. Eye care may include eye drops during the day, ointment at bedtime, or a moisture chamber at night. This helps protect the cornea from being scratched, which is crucial to the management of Bell's palsy.
Your healthcare provider will prescribe other treatment for your condition based on the severity of your symptoms and your health history. Other treatment options include:
Some people may choose to use alternative therapies in the treatment of Bell's palsy, but there is no proof they make a difference in recovery. Such treatment may include:
Bell’s palsy usually resolves in time and causes no long-term complications. However, during the illness most people with Bell’s palsy are unable to close their eye on the affected side of their face. It is, therefore, important to protect the eye from drying at night or while working at a computer. Eye care may include eye drops during the day, ointment at bedtime, or a moisture chamber at night. This helps protect the cornea from being scratched.
Bell’s palsy usually resolves in time and causes no long-term complications. It is important, however, to take medicines as directed. It is also crucial that you protect the affected eye from drying. Use of eye drops during the day and ointment at bedtime can protect the cornea from scratching.
Bell’s palsy usually starts to improve in 2 weeks but may take 3 to 6 months to return to normal. If there is no improvement or if any symptoms worsen, it is important to tell your healthcare provider.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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