Bell’s palsy is a sudden onset of facial paralysis that causes one side of the face to droop. If you have Bell’s palsy, you most likely went to bed and woke up the next morning only to find you cannot move one side of your face. The condition is named after the surgeon in Scotland that discovered it, Sir Charles Bell. It occurs in around 40,000 people in the U.S. every year and around .02 of people all over the world. It can happen equally to men, women, and anyone in any ethnic group. It is noticeably higher in the Japanese population. This article will help you understand Bell’s palsy better and how to manage it.
Bell’s palsy is the sudden paralysis and/or weakness of the facial nerves on the side of the face. This nerve is known as, the seventh cranial nerve. Bell’s palsy usually sets in overnight, you may wake up to find you cannot move one side of your face and your eyelid droops. It may be very hard to blink. You may think you have had a stroke, but a stroke is unrelated to this condition. You should always be evaluated if you have these symptoms, but symptoms of a stroke involve several more nerve junctions. Stroke sufferers also have trouble speaking, moving their arms and legs. It is also unrelated to cerebral palsy.
Symptoms of Bell’s Palsy
The symptoms of Bell’s palsy are sudden and consist of:
Trouble blinking or closing the eye on the affected side
Weakness on the affected side
Paralysis on the affected side
Less tears and saliva, or more than normal
Loss of taste
Sensitivity to sound in affected ear
Jaw and ear pain
Symptoms are most often limited to one side, but in rare instances it may affect both sides of the face. The good news is it is almost always temporary and goes away over time.
What Causes Bell’s Palsy?
It isn’t completely known what causes Bell’s palsy. Most cases come on after you suffer a viral infection. Those that are most common in Bell’s palsy include:
They do know that something causes inflammation and swelling of the facial nerve, which causes it to shut down.
Diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy
No test can diagnose Bell’s palsy specifically. Your doctor can usually ask your recent medical history, i.e. virus, Lyme disease, medications, etc. You will be asked to try to close your eyes, smile, frown, and show your teeth. You will also be tested for signs of a stroke. The doctor may order a few tests:
MRI or CT Scan The doctor will most likely order these tests to rule out other causes such as a stroke, MS, skull fracture, or a tumor pressing on the nerve.
EMG – Electromyography You may be hooked up to electrodes so the doctor can see the electrical activity coming from any muscles near the facial nerve.
Treatment for Bell’s Palsy
Bell’s palsy often goes away on its own in about 2 weeks. If the case is severe enough, the doctor may prescribe medications. Those include:
Steroids Steroids may help to shorten the course of the illness by reducing the inflammation to the nerve.
NSAID’s, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Anti-inflammatory drugs like NSAID’s help to relieve swelling to the nerve.
Anti-Viral Medications Some studies have shown that taking anti-viral medications may help reduce the effects of the virus on the nerve and shorten the time of paralysis.
Pain Medications These can help relieve jaw and ear pain.
Eye Drops and Patch Since the eye will not close or blink, the eye needs to be protected from things getting inside. Blinking also keeps the eye moist, so eye drops can replace that function until the eye recovers.
Lifestyle Home Remedies for Bell’s Palsy
Try Warm Moist Heat Take a warm washcloth and place it over the affected area several times daily to help improve blood flow and lessen the pain.
Try Some Exercises Do exercises with your face that involve frowning, puckering your lips, and tightening your chin. These will keep the muscles tone.
Stretch your Facial Muscles Point your lips out as far as they will go, then release. Roll your head from side to side. Stretches can help relax the muscles.
Wear Sunglasses During the Day Wear sunglasses during the day to protect your eye from excess sunlight and debris.
Alternative Medicine for Bell’s Palsy
Eat Foods High in Lysine This is said to send viruses into a dormant phase. These foods are meats, dairy, fish, yogurt, apples, pineapples, and asparagus.
Increase B Vitamins Vitamin B nourishes the nerves and nervous system. It is thought that vitamin B supplements can speed recovery.
MSM The supplement MSM may help to repair nerves. This can be found at your local drugstore or health food store.
Prevention of Bell’s Palsy
At this time there isn’t much you can do to prevent Bell’s Palsy, because they are still unsure of what causes it. There are a few preventative tips that can help keep you healthy and avoid getting some of the viruses that may be risk factors:
Practice good hand washing
Avoid crowds during cold and flu season
Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids
Rest and stay home if you catch a virus
Avoid caffeine, smoking, and alcohol when you are sick
In general, try to keep yourself as healthy as possible especially if you have a family history of Bell’s Palsy.
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