Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder, may affect men and women of any age but statistics suggest that the condition is more likely to strike those above the age of 40. According to Dr. Arjun Srivatsa, Bengaluru-based veteran neurosurgeon, “Diabetics and people with a compromised immune system are at a greater risk of suffering from the condition.” Other factors that can up your risk of Bell’s palsy include pregnancy, lung infection and a family history of the condition.
What is Bell’s Palsy?
Bell’s palsy is a condition that leads to temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial nerves. Inflammation or compression of the nerves responsible for controlling the muscles of your face can trigger this condition. Bell’s palsy causes one side of your face to droop or become stiff. So, your lip and eye movements become restricted on the side of your face affected by this condition. Named after Scottish anatomist Charles Bell, the first to be affected by Bell’s palsy, this condition doesn’t last for long. The symptoms resolve within a few weeks. Rarely, it relapses.
Bell’s Palsy Symptoms
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy appear abruptly a week or two after you’ve suffered cough and cold, ear or eye infection. You may experience them after getting up from bed in the morning or while trying to eat or drink. Watch out for these symptoms of Bell’s palsy and consult a doctor:
- Sudden weakness of facial muscles
- Lack of sensation on the affected side of the face
- Sudden onset of a crooked smile
- Inability to close the eye on the affected side
- Drooling on the affected corner of the mouth
- Inability to raise the eyebrow on the affected side.
- Loss of taste
- Pain behind the ear of the affected side.
- Numbness on the same side
- Increased sensitivity to sound
- Inability to make facial expressions on the affected side
- Difficulty in producing tears or saliva
Causes of Bell’s Palsy
The exact cause of Bell’s palsy is yet to be known. According to Dr. Srivatsa, “Bell’s palsy is usually caused by inflammation of a facial nerve at the point where it exits the skull to enter the face. So, commonly, it affects the ears. The inflammation can be the result of a viral infection or a tumour. However, the onset of facial muscle weakness due to a tumour is usually gradual and not sudden.”
Several viruses and bacteria have been associated with Bell’s palsy. Here are the most prominent ones:
Herpes simplex: It causes cold sores and genital herpes
HIV: It damages the immune system
Herpes zoster: It causes chickenpox and shingles
Rubella: It causes German measles
Mumps virus: It causes mumps disease
Influenza B: It gives you flu
Adenovirus: It causes respiratory virus
Bell’s Palsy Complications
Though Bell’s palsy is a condition that resolves pretty easily in most cases, people with severe form of this condition may experience the following complications:
- Severe damage in the nerves that control facial muscles.
- Excessive dryness in the eyes, triggering infection, ulcers and even blindness.
- Synkinesis: In this condition, movement of one part of the body can cause another to move involuntary.
Diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy
The diagnosis of Bell’s palsy is purely clinical. Your doctor will ask you about the symptoms and discern the onset of the condition. He may also suggest physical and neurological tests to confirm the diagnosis based on his physical examinations. These tests may include bloodwork for detecting bacterial or viral infection, MRI or CT scan to check the nerves of your face.
Treatment Of Bell’s Palsy
In most cases, Bell’s palsy heals on its own without any treatment. However, if you need medical intervention, your doctor may prescribe medicines to tackle inflammation and suggest physiotherapy. Oral drugs may include corticosteroid drugs to work on inflammation, antibiotics (in case the culprit is any pathogen) and pain relievers. Physiotherapy, on the other hand, may help you stimulate the weakened facial nerves. “Also, a patient will also be advised to use re-wetting eye drops to prevent the onset of dry eyes. This is because, in this condition the eye lids will not be able to close completely causing dryness. You may also be suggested to wear protective glasses to prevent damage to the eyeball due to foreign objects,” says Dr. Srivastava.
Prognosis of Bell’s Palsy
The prognosis for people with Bell’s palsy is usually positive. Typically, people see improvements two weeks after the onset of symptoms and get cured within three to six months. However, recovery time varies with severity of nerve damage. On rare occasions, this condition relapses.
Prevention of Bell’s Palsy
The best way to prevent this condition is to keep your immunity up and prevent infections. According to Dr. Srivatsa, “Since this condition is also brought on by sudden or prolonged exposure to cold, avoiding extremely cold liquids is an effective way to keep Bell’s palsy at bay. Apart from that people should also avoid driving in cold weather since their face is exposed to cold winds. However, if you must, protect your face and ears with scarf to stay safe from this condition.”
The content has been verified by Dr. Arjun Srivatsa, a veteran neurosurgeon practising in Bengaluru.