Bell’s palsy: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help
About bell’s palsy
Bell’s palsy is a condition where the muscles on one side of face become temporarily weak or in extreme case, paralyzed. This is a transient condition which resolves over a period of time
Bell’s palsy: Incidence, age and sex
Bell’s palsy is mainly observed in people over the age of 16 and under 60 years. It is quite rare in children. Pregnant women and diabetics are more susceptible to Bell’s palsy.
Signs and symptoms of bell’s palsy: Diagnosis
Bell’s palsy typically affects only one side of face. No other body part gets implicated. This differentiates bell’s palsy from a serious condition like stroke where the muscles of the arm and legs are also involved along with that of face. Bell’s palsy occurs suddenly with tautness on one side of face. It progresses rapidly, and symptoms are full blown within day or two. There is difficulty in closing the eyelid and also holding the saliva in the mouth. There is loss of taste sensation on one side of tongue. The patient is unable to smile, blink or even wrinkle the forehead. At times, there is pain behind the ears and hearing is louder in one ear.
Causes and prevention of bell’s palsy
Bell’s palsy is caused due to a problem in the facial nerve. There are two facial nerves which supply the facial muscles on either side. The facial nerve on one side gets swollen probably due to an immune response to certain viral infections like chicken pox, genital herpes and flu. Sometimes there is no evident cause of swelling of facial nerve. This swollen facial nerve gets compressed by surrounding structures, leading to weakness of facial muscles on that side.
Bell’s palsy: Complications
Bell’s palsy is fortunately only a temporary condition. In more than 90% of cases the affected facial muscles revert to their normal condition within 8-12 weeks, without any residual facial weakness. But a handful of people are left with some permanent facial weakness.
Moreover, re-growth of facial nerve fibres in the wrong direction can also lead to swapping of facial expressions. For example, if one tries to smile, he/she may blink instead of smiling. Furthermore, long period of eyelid opening can lead to dryness of eyes which in turn can herald blindness. Rarely, shortening of face muscles can occur which will lead to some perceptible change in the looks. This can bring about some emotional distress. But overall, complete facial movements are restored in most of the patients.
Bell’s palsy: Treatment
This condition gets resolved within a few weeks in a majority of the people. But the patient needs some symptomatic care during this period. Since the patient is unable to close the eyelid on one side, it not only makes the eye dry but also causes increased chances of injuries by dust particles or other foreign bodies.
It is advisable to wear sunglasses throughout the day to prevent such injuries. Occluding the eye with tape can also help, especially during sleeping. It is also recommended to use artificial tears which can moisturize the eyes. It is very essential to adequately lubricate the affected eye since dryness of eye can harm the eye, finally leading to blindness.
Oral steroids can also be used in Bell’s palsy since they tend to reduce the swelling of the facial nerve. Few patients also respond to certain antiviral medications like Acyclovir. Surgical correction can be considered to decompress the facial nerve but it has an extremely limited role at present.