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Sometimes Bell's Palsy Never Goes Away

Updated on September 14, 2014

What is Bell's palsy?

According to information from the Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bells-palsy/basics/definition/con-20020529):

"Bell's palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.

"Bell's palsy, also known as facial palsy, can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. It may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

"For most people, Bell's palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell's palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell's palsy can recur."


Another definition from WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/bells-palsy-topic-overview):

"Bell's palsy is a paralysis or weakness of the muscles on one side of your face. Damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face causes that side of your face to droop . The nerve damage may also affect your sense of taste and how you make tears and saliva. This condition comes on suddenly, often overnight, and usually gets better on its own within a few weeks.

"Bell's palsy is not the result of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). While stroke and TIA can cause facial paralysis, there is no link between Bell's palsy and either of these conditions. But sudden weakness that occurs on one side of your face should be checked by a doctor right away to rule out these more serious causes."


What I Look Like Today

Smiling big, without my glasses, makes me look like a deranged pirate.
Smiling big, without my glasses, makes me look like a deranged pirate.
Smiling only slightly, with lips closed and wearing my darkened glasses, the Bell's palsy is less severe.
Smiling only slightly, with lips closed and wearing my darkened glasses, the Bell's palsy is less severe.

My Bell's Palsy Story

My story is simple at the beginning. I woke up with it one morning in 2007. I open my right eye but my left was already open, stuck open I was to soon find out. I immediately felt the numbness of the entire left side of my face. Jumping out of bed, I ran to the bathroom mirror too see the disaster: my smile was crooked with only the right side of it working normally. My nostril was dead on the left side, no feeling at all. My left eyelid would not work no matter how hard I tried. It was stuck in the "open" position. My eye still went back and forth but the lid would not blink at all. I thought I had had a stroke.

Seven years later, as of September 2014, I still have it. It is not as debilitating but just as humiliating, frustrating, and depressing as ever. My pictures practically tell the story.

What I Did

After completely freaking out, my wife tried to reassure me as we quickly made a doctor's appointment. The doctor was able to see me that day and tentatively diagnosed it as Bell's palsy but sent me to a specialist for confirmation. At that appointment, it was again diagnosed as Bell's palsy though not 100% certain. I had electro-pad therapy with a TENS unit that made me extremely uncomfortable. Let me try to describe it for you: Little pads, about an inch around, connected to wires. The pads are attached to your face using an adhesive backing. When attached they are then turned on and the intensity of the charge regulated according to need. It feels like little pins and needles sticking you over and over again. Very annoying.

I needed to find out what to do about my left eye and the fact that it would not close. The doctor recommended an eye patch, either adhesive or elastic, to be worn at all times to protect against dust, dirt and dryness. I had to always have "natural tears" eye drops handy to help keep the eye moist.

Eating and drinking suddenly became a challenge. Although I could still chew on my left side, I had no feeling so taking a piece out of my cheek was something I had to be watchful of. The only way I could drink was to use a straw for without it it just dribbled down my left side. Remember after the dentist, when you are full of novacaine and numb? That's exactly what my mouth felt like.

Symptoms of Bell's Palsy

Symptoms of Bell's palsy
Symptoms of Bell's palsy

Bell's Palsy Facts As I Know Them To Be

1. It might never go away

2. It effects you for the rest of your life

3. It changes the way you do things (like eating, drinking, smiling, etc.)

4. It forces you to make decisions you otherwise would not have to make (should I go out? Are they taking pictures? Can I eat normally?)

5. There is no cure


Seven Years Later

Seven years later I still have Bell's palsy though I have more control over it now. I am able to lift the left corner of my mouth slightly but I still have a crooked smile. My let eye closes fine but still has a sag to it. Also, whenever I try to smile, my left eye tends to close up so I rarely take photos of myself anymore. If I do, it will from my right side.

An Example of Bell's Palsy

Changes to Your Body, Changes to Your Attitude

Bell's palsy changes they way you act, the way you live and the way you interact with others. For me, interacting with others was one of the hardest things to do because I was always conscience of the way I looked to others. I had to wear dark glasses and remember to not smile or it would lead to questions being asked for which I had no answers.

It changed my life in that the way I slept, ate, drank, and ran about my daily life was no so simple anymore. Now I had to think before I did anything. Before I drink this, I should get a straw. Before I eat this, will it make me look funny by chewing only on one side?

Sleeping was a challenge in that I could never sleep on my left side anymore. If I did, I would find my pillow would have a large wet spot from where I drooled. I also had to wear the eye patch day and night which was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.

It totally changed the way I acted in my daily life such as taking a shower. If I removed the eye patch, the water would run into my eye. If I wore the eye patch, it was more difficult to wash my hair. Brushing my teeth, I had to pull the left side of my lip away from my face in order to reach in there with my toothbrush. I had become stigmatized so radically that it changed the way I was thinking about everything in my life.

And my attitude began to change, as well. I grew increasingly frustrated by the lack of a cure or even complete knowledge as to what I was specifically going through and experiencing. All I got was that I had a 75-80% chance of it being Bell's palsy and I would need a barrage of expensive tests to prove otherwise. I chose to stick with this diagnosis.



Bell's Palsy - Before and After Photos

Young man with Bell's palsy
Young man with Bell's palsy
Older woman with Bell's palsy
Older woman with Bell's palsy
Young woman with Bell's palsy
Young woman with Bell's palsy
Older man with Bell's palsy
Older man with Bell's palsy

Bell's Palsy is Nothing to Fool Around With!

If you think you might have Bell's palsy, immediately schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. The sooner you seek help the better you will be. The treatment (TENS unit electro-shock therapy, facial massage exercises) is not pleasant but won't take up much of your time. There is nothing that can be done about the way it effects you personally, only you can deal with that. Do not be afraid to seek help and advice from others, especially those who have experienced Bell's palsy themselves.

I was told Bell's palsy would only last a few months. That was very wrong. Then I was told it could last up to five years. I had hope. After the five-year anniversary passed, I became depressed. It has now been seven years and, though I am much better physically, I am still the same insecure, frustrated and depressed individual inside. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will have Bell's palsy until the day I die and I'm fine with that. Not really but it sounds good when I say it.


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    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 2 years ago from the short journey

      It is interesting to learn more about this condition via your sharing the experience you've had with it. A friend and a relative have dealt with ongoing symptoms, but now I better understand what they've gone through. From the photo it would be impossible to tell that Bell's Palsy has been a part of your life. It's important to share experiences when others can learn from them, especially if they are dealing with the same issues. Thanks for being willing to do that. You reminded me that the things medical professionals are sometimes unbelievable with your final comment: "...it sounds good when I say it."

    • JP McDonald profile image
      Author

      James McDonald 2 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you for your wonderful comment! My story is an open book but it is a bit painful to share especially in such an open forum as Hub. But I do want others to be aware that it might take longer than the doctors say and to not take it too badly. There are things that can be done. Thanks again!

    • Purplepassion1 profile image

      Joanne Lombardo 2 years ago from Prescott AZ

      Hey Jim, enjoyed reading your hub, very informative and inspirational. Also inspired me to start writing hubs again…..what to write? I am glad you are learning to cope with your Bell's Palsy. My mom has been dealing with it for years also and she hates her picture to be taken. Her smile is still a little off and when she gets tired, her eye droops, but other than that she is good. Keep writing.

    • JP McDonald profile image
      Author

      James McDonald 2 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you for your comment, purple one! The Bell's palsy causes a type of vanity that I never experienced before and it totally changed me in that respect. I knew if I smiled, even a little bit, that I could possibly look like a hillbilly or a bum so I was VERY careful about my expressions. You can see by my big smile above that it is not a pretty sight.

      Don't bother complimenting your mother about her appearance. Well, you can try but, if she is anything like me, she won't believe it. She knows the way she thinks she looks - and she think she looks ugly - and no amount of smiles and/or compliments will make her believe otherwise. We pray for a miracle cure or for it to simply go away. I refuse to accept it and try massage every day in hopes of at least making it smaller or easier to deal with. But, to no avail as it persists and continues to make my life miserable.

      At least there's no pain so that is a good thing. I should feel fortunate compared to others with much more difficulties than myself. I don't like to whine but felt like I should tell my side of the story to see if it touches anyone.

      Thank you again for your kind words. Tell your mother good luck and she's definitely not alone if she wants to talk.

      James

    • profile image

      Readytoride 2 years ago

      I related a lot with this. I got Bell's Palsy when I was 25. I had never heard of it and my mother panicked when I called her after I woke up with it. My parents rushed me to the Dr as they thought I was having a stroke since none of us had heard of it. I was told it was most likely Bell's Palsy but the did an MRI to rule out a tumor and checked me for Lymes disease to be safe. I was put on prednisone and went through electric shock physical therapy on my face. My eye gave me the issues and I taped it shut day and night or it ached from lack of blinking and being dried out. I couldn't wear my contacts for a long time either.

      My family and friends were supportive but didn't understand. I was VERY self conscious and HATED going out in public and being stared at. I got groceries in the middle of the night to see the least amount of people. My family and friends would say "It could be worse you could have had a stroke". That was very true and I knew that but I still was depressed for many months over my appearance and the uncomforta that go with it.

      Fast forward 14 years later and I got a lot of muscle movement back but not all. My tear duct has never worked the same since and my eye on my right side dries out easy and I have to use drops all day. I feel fortunate to have the recovery I did since I did at least recover a decent amount. My eye closes on my right when I smile but at least I can smile I tell myself. I still don't like photos very much as you can tell my face looks a bit lopsided. I have creases on my right side that I don't have on my left from muscle that won't relax and stays tensed up. I don't like anyone looking at my profile on the right and try to wear sunglasses unless I can't as it hides my face some. I hate chewing in front of people as it just doesn't look normal when I chew since the muscles don't lift and aren't controlled the same on one side.

      I have a wonderful boyfriend who says I can see it more than anyone else. He tells me I'm beautiful and gets mad if I tell him otherwise. I'm so grateful to have the love and support that I have in my life. For the most part I've accepted that this is just how I will look from now on. The part that bothers me the most is getting aches in my eye from being dry and now extremely light sensitive since I had Bell's Palsy.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I know it's not an easy thing to love with and not everyone understand how much it affects you everyday when you have residuals left.

    • JP McDonald profile image
      Author

      James McDonald 2 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Thank you, Readytoride. I related to every one of your comment points regarding Bell's palsy. This is a nasty, evil disease that needs to have a complete cure for everyone. Going through life with half a face is not fun. And no one understands except those with the disease. No one would ever be able to put themselves in our shoes because we are so unique and swept-under-the-rug. It's sad really.

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