Chances are, you may know someone who has experienced Bell's palsy, or may even have experienced this common nerve condition personally. Bell's palsy causes sudden, temporary paralysis of the face or parts of the face due to nerve damage. It is the most common nerve damage condition, occurring in two out of every 10,000 people. The nerve damaged in Bell's palsy is called the seventh cranial nerve, and is responsible for controlling the muscles in the face.
Bell's Palsy symptoms that may scare you, but are usually harmless
Sudden symptoms can include complete paralysis of one side of the face, which is often scary because it may look like a stroke or other more serious conditions. For this reason, it is necessary to see a doctor immediately to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms.
While it may feel scary to the person first experiencing symptoms, this is not a serious or life threatening condition. Bell's palsy goes away on its own in a few weeks or months. Unfortunately this also means there are no medications or treatments to make Bell's palsy go away. Symptoms, mild or severe, can be uncomfortable, so typically there is an attempt to relieve symptoms in order to make the person with Bell's palsy feel more comfortable.
Common symptoms include twitching or weakness or sensations of stiffness and pulling in the face, or complete paralysis on one side of the face. There may be changing facial expression, a drooping eyelid, drooping at one corner of the mouth, dry eye or mouth, drooling, and difficulty eating and drinking. Usually all of these symptoms go away. Sometimes, however, there are both short term and long-term complications. In the short term, there may be eye damage such as ulcers and infection. Long-term there may be changes to the face, problems tasting food and drinks, or face and eyelid spasms.
Bell's Palsy: Do medications help?
Corticosteroid medication, when taken in the first 24 hours after symptoms first start, may help lessen the symptoms by lowering any swelling or pressure on the nerve. Antiviral medications may also be given in an attempt to lessen symptoms, but there is no research showing that these medications actually impact the length of time it takes to recover from Bell's palsy. Eye discomfort is often a side effect of Bell's palsy symptoms. Drops and an eye patch can help when the eye does not close completely or if blinking is a problem.
Other conditions and cause for concern
Bell's palsy may be connected to diabetes, lyme disease, sarcoidosis or head injury. Blood tests, nerve testing and imaging exams of the skull and brain can be helpful in determining if there is another, more serious health condition causing Bell's palsy, or if it is not Bell's palsy at all but another medical problem, such as a stroke, that caused the symptoms.