What is Bell's Palsy? What it's Like When Half of Your Face Stops Working
What is Bell's Palsy? (And my experience)
Bell's Palsy is a disease that shows itself through paralysis of one-half of a person's face. I got it on the left side of my face. It settles in unannounced, often during times of high stress in a person's life. Mine set in on the day before Halloween just after mid-terms during my graduate school career. The symptoms are typically as follows:
- impairment of the eyelid (This means that the eyes don't blink at the same speed.)
- inability to smile completely (Often one side of the smile will be completely still. Mine is.)
- numbness of the tongue
- non-movement of the eyebrow
- hyper-sensitivity to sound (loud dishes clanking is the best example)
Bell's Palsy is a disease that can strike pretty much anyone. I'm 26 and in very good shape. I exercise 4-5 times per week, including cardio and strength training. 80-90% of my food is organic. I eat my veggies every day. I didn't get Bell's Palsy because I failed to take care of myself. I'm not sure why I got it, but I did, so now I'm dealing with it and it's not so bad.
Treatment of Bell's Palsy
From my research, it seems that steroids and anti-virals are the most common prescription to deal with Bell's Palsy. I am on 60 mg of steroids for 5 days (3 pills of 20mg each), then tapering them by 1/2 a pill every day until I reach 0. I have been instructed to spread them out during the day, but also told that if I forget, it's not that big of a deal. I've been taking them as instructed, but it's nice to know I have some leeway.
The anti-virals are usually prescribed for people who have reoccurring cold sores. It seems that Bell's Palsy is a dormant virus that often shows up in conjunction with the herpes virus. This doesn't mean that people who have BP or herpes are gross. It means that they have a disease that most people already have, it just decided to show itself in them.
It seems to be helpful to massage the face -- the whole face, not just the afflicted side -- while the palsy hangs around. The muscles on the side that is not affected are going to be overworked, and the muscles on the paralyzed side are going to be underworked. Massaging the face in little circles can be helpful, not to mention relaxing.
Take Care of Your EYE!
The most heavily complained-about factor of BP is the dryness of the eyeball. Since you can't blink properly, your eye gets really dry really fast. I usually wear contacts (when my whole face works), but I've been wearing my glasses since the BP found me. No matter what, keep your eye lubricated! I have used Thera-Tears during the day and Lacri-Lube at night. I am lucky enough to work at home, so I wear an eye patch most of the time. It came in really handy on Halloween. After toying with the ideas of being Richard Harrow or Harvey Two-Face, I dressed up as a pirate.
I use cloth medical tape to tape my eye shut at night (after applying the Lacri-Lube) and Band-Aid eyepatches. They don't let any air in and keep the eye nice and moist. When I take off the Band-Aid and tape in the morning, I'm very gentle, especially with the eyelid, sometimes using the steam from hot water. So far, so good.
The Lacri-Lube can be somewhat gummy in the morning, so I take a soft wash cloth with warm water on it and wipe my eye -- again, gently -- inward. I never am able to get all of it and don't really want to touch my eyeball directly, so I just let some of the leftover Lacri-Lube hang out in my eye during the first hour or so of the morning and it eventually makes its way out with plenty of eyedrops and manual blinking (i.e., using the finger to guide the eyelid through the blinking motion).
Bell's Palsy can be embarrassing, but you know what? Anybody could get it. For some reason, you did, so now you've got a chance to do some character-building and hold your head high, regardless of how droopy one side of it may be. Put a half-smile on your face and do what you always do. Chances are, the palsy will go away, and if it doesn't, are you going to live the rest of your life hiding it? Just bring eye drops everywhere you go.
I went to a concert, a party, and a trivia night already, and I haven't even had the damn thing for a week. It's not looking any better, but I didn't obsess over it while I was having fun and I don't plan to start. Sure, I got pretty upset about it when it first set in, but it's annoying to cry out of an unblinking eye and gross to wipe up the snot when you can't sniffle that well, so I stopped it and moved on. Besides, my face is swollen enough as it is from the steroids.