- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Experiencing Bell’s Palsy
Three Instances of Bell's Palsy
I was 15 years old when I developed Bell’s Palsy and at the time, no one in my family had ever experienced the disease or knew anything about it. Since then, both my mother and my great-uncle have had Bell’s Palsy and the sudden way the illness presented itself and the way in which it went away has been the same for all three of us.
As for my experience with Bell’s Palsy, it was spring break while on a camping trip Mexico. We were camping along the shore of Baja California, digging for fresh clams, eating fresh lobster and shrimp and riding our dune buggies on the beach. A few days after we had been there, I was not feeling well and I went into the motor home to take a nap. About an hour or so later my father came in and asked me how I was feeling. I could not get the words out of my mouth and he, staring intently into my face said, “What is wrong with your eye?” He then noticed not only was my eye droopy, but my mouth was lopsided and the whole side of my face was as if I had no muscles there. I could not smile and I could not drink water without spilling it all over my chin. My head and my ear were killing me and my one eye kept watering.
Fearing that I had a stoke or some other unknown Mexican bug bite infection, he had the motor home, the dune buggy, 3 brothers and sisters and my step-mom packed up and ready to head back to San Diego within 30 minutes, going directly to the hospital. Knowing I did not have a fever did not stop him from flashing his police badge at the United States border crossing, and the Border Patrol let us cross quickly without going through inspection. We got to the hospital and were quickly ushered into the MRI area where an MRI was done.
Once the MRI results were reviewed the doctor came in and said I had Bell’s Palsy. He said the paralysis was caused by an inflamed and swollen nerve coming through my skull to my facial muscles, shutting off the blood and oxygen flow. He said it would go away in a few days with full facial muscle control returning in about 1 month. He recommended a treatment of anti-viral medication, telling us that considering we had been camping on the beach in Mexico, it would not be a bad idea.
Over the next couple of weeks I did regain most of the muscle control in my face and I was able to stop drooling all over myself. However, even with the quick medical treatment and anti-viral medication, today I still have a lopsided smile, my one eye closes a bit when I smile and my ear is very sensitive to sound.
Overtime, and after talking to several medical personnel, I learned my treatment and recovery were pretty standard for Bell’s Palsy. Though most patients do recover from facial paralysis, many patients continue to experience watering eyes, crooked smiles and sensitive hearing for the rest to their life. The important thing about this disease was it did go away and unless someone makes a comment about my eye closing when I smile, I forget all about it.
The causes of Bell’s Palsy are undefined but most medical professionals agree that common factors or causes are: a viral infection such as Herpes Simplex, Chicken Pox, Shingles or Mononucleosis. Medical professionals also claim Bell’s Palsy occurs more often in people who are pregnant, have diabetes or have an upper respiratory infection. It affects men and women equally. As I was totally healthy before we went camping, I did not have a cold, I have never had Chicken Pox, and cold sores were something my older sister got, we are not sure of the cause of my Bell’s Palsy.
As for my mom, she was struck with Bell’s Palsy at age 67. At the time she was healthy, was not pregnant, did not have diabetes and did not have a cold or any other illness. Considering her age, the hospital she went to was more concerned that she had had a stroke and looked at that as the first cause of her facial paralysis. After some tests, they quickly decided it was not a stroke and gave her an antiviral medication for 10 days. Her recovery has been the same as mine, except unfortunately she did have an actual stoke about six months later which the doctors say was not related to the Bell’s Palsy. She still has one eye that waters more than the other and her hearing is very sensitive.
My great-uncle was 39 when he contracted Bell’s Palsy. He was at work when he had a terrible headache and his eyes became very sensitive to light. He went to his doctor right after work and was told he was having a mini-stoke. They did tests to search for blood clots and were able to rule out a stroke as the cause of his facial paralysis. Once they decided it was not a stroke, just as in my mom’s case, they determined it was Bell’s Palsy and gave him an anti-viral medication. Within a month, he regained almost full control of his facial muscles, did not experience any hearing sensitivity and he claimed he did not experience any excessive eye tearing. However, his smile was a little lopsided until the day he died at age 89 – I guess a crooked smile is one symptom we all had in common.
As there is no specific test to confirm a diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy and it is often suspected of being a stroke at first examination, this is not a disease to ignore. Approximately 5,000 people a year are diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Due to the similarity in symptoms of Bell’s Palsy, strokes, tumors or nerve infections, it is very important to see your doctor immediately if you suspect you have Bell’s Palsy. If after a few days there is still doubt about your diagnosis, your doctor may want to perform other tests to rule out any other causes of your facial paralysis.
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